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Competing Too Much

By Chuck Violand

September 9, 2019

If you’re like most business owners you’re probably hardwired to be competitive and to want to be right. Many of us have been socialized this way most of our lives, starting from when we were kids.

We competed in sports where we always wanted to be on the winning team and in school where we worked hard to get good grades. In art we wanted our pictures to be the most admired, and in music we wanted to stand out in the crowd.

Many of us competed for social status by wanting to be included in the popular group or to win the attention of the prettiest or handsomest person in the class.

We build on our competitive nature throughout adulthood, as we become parents, or when we find ourselves accepting leadership roles within different organizations. It’s only natural that our drive to compete and win would extend to our own business.

Competing can be a good thing, as it’s our competitive nature that drives us to want to succeed or excel. It’s this drive that helps us to suffer through the personal rejection and business setbacks that are part of growing a business and to soldier on with our ideas and dreams.

But, just as competing can be a positive force that drives us toward accomplishing our vision, it can also become a weakness that blinds us to the consequences of our actions and then serves to restrict the growth of our company.

One of my favorite executive coaching gurus and authors, Marshall Goldsmith, addresses this in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. He lists it as first among the behavioral problems business leaders face: Winning too much.

Goldsmith writes, “Winning too much is easily the most common behavioral problem that I observe in successful people. There’s a fine line between being competitive and over-competitive, between winning when it counts and when no one’s counting—and successful people cross that line with alarming frequency.”

As part of a presentation I give several times a year to small business owners across the country, I start by advising the attendees to avoid competing too much, knowing that at some point during my program they’re going to compete with me. When we over-focus on competing or on winning or on just being right, we shut down our ability to learn new things or to consider different points of view. The more we compete, the more we dig our heels in the sand on what we think or on what we want, rather than considering other possibilities.

More tragic still is that when we compete too much, we risk marginalizing the people we think we’re competing with. They’re no longer human beings with names and lives and families. They become non-descript “thems” who are trying to beat us or gain an advantage over us. We blind ourselves to the lessons we might have learned or the opportunities that might have been available to us if we were open to working with them.

The business philosophy of winning at all costs seems to be a relic of the past, and I’m glad it is. In recent years, the trend toward new idea generation and collaboration is much healthier for our businesses and for us. And it’s a lot more fun.