This is an appropriate title for me because I have thought and said “I want to win!” many times in my life. Ask those who know me best and they will tell you that I am a competitive person in just about any facet of life. Ask those who’ve known me my whole life and you might even hear some stories of competitive board and card game play that I’d prefer not be repeated.
As a younger person my competitive nature led me to want to win every game of HORSE, Scrabble, Euchre; every foot race or contest that I entered; and score the highest on every test. While I was taught to be (and think I mostly was) a good sport, my focus was most always on winning. And looking back, I can point to both the power and the pitfalls of this competitive nature.
I married someone much less competitive, and I have a son who takes more after his mother than me in this area. I also spend my time with people and organizations who are trying to improve their results. These facts have kept me pondering and exploring competition throughout my life.
This exploration and self-examination as well as a lifetime of observations have led to some specific beliefs about competition:
- Everyone is competitive at some level and in some ways.
- The intensity of your competitive feelings drives your thoughts about competition.
- Your thoughts about competition and your competitors influence your behavior.
- Your behavior leads to your results.
Competition as a GIFT
Since competition can impact our results, it makes sense to me to view it as a gift that we have been given. How we use and direct our competitive nature is determined by four components that make up the word GIFT.
Goals – competition is defined by goals. The goals you choose are critical to harnessing the power of competition. Having a goal – a profit target, grade, score or time – sets the stage for competition, regardless of who you are competing against. Consider your goals from the perspective of how they stoke your competitiveness.
Intent – your intent will determine how you compete. If your intent is to win at all costs, your behaviors will be different than if you want to do your best, or improve since your last effort. If my intent in a board game (or life) is only to win, my thoughts and behaviors will be different than if my intent is to improve on past performance. Both intents produce a result – one might produce a better, healthier and more sustainable long-term result. This concept of intent is an important one to consider in relationship to competition.
Focus – who you are competing against. You can view yourself, others, other teams or other companies as your competition. If you see the person in the next cubicle as your competition, you may not share information or resources. You may be less likely to build relationships. Why would you want/need to? They are the competition, after all! If you think of another department, another shift, or another region as the competition, you certainly may build great team pride and unity, and yet work at cross purposes with those other groups. Why? Because you want to win! Where ever you place your focus determines who you are competing against. This is a critical component in the results you will achieve. Think carefully about who the competition really is before ramping up your competitive juices. Do not misunderstand this point. There is nothing wrong with internal competition, just make sure the focus is on overall goal achievement not just winning for the sake of winning.
Timeline – where you place the competition finish line. Do you consider it winning only when you reach a life-long major goal, or can you revel in and celebrate small wins along the way? Where you place the finish line determines how often you can win. If you want to win an Olympic medal, you would have many competitive finishes before reaching that large goal wouldn’t you? While you can have (and need) the long-term, big, competitive aspiration, you must set many smaller, intermediate opportunities to win along the way.
I hope you can see how the choices you make and the perspectives you take on these four GIFT components will determine your results.
Take some time to consider the role that competition plays in your life and your results. Reflect on these ideas regardless of how competitive you are.
Competition is truly one of the most powerful human forces. As a leader, as a teammate, and as an individual, it is important to consider how you can use this competitive fire to create the results you really want.
Potential Pointer: Competition and a competitive spirit can be one of the most powerful productivity levers – or one of the most destructive forces – on the planet. The key to harnessing this power is to understand it and learn how to use it productively.