How Great Leaders Create Healthy Competition

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By Jas Singh

My brother and I are only 14 months apart in age.

Growing up, we did everything together. Walk to school, spend time on holidays and weekends, even shared a bedroom.

Although at times we argued, I have to say that are far as siblings go, he was the best.

In fact to this day, I would say he has always been my best friend.

A big part of the credit for this has to go to our dad. You see unlike mom, my dad was never afraid to push us. To even create healthy competition between us. As my dad taught us at a young age, competition used in the right way can massively improve performance. It teaches us to win properly and lose graciously. After all the world is a competitive place.

Whether it was racing our bikes in the park or trying to build a higher house of cards, me and my bro competed regularly. And strangely, as we became older I didn’t even mind losing to him – as long as we had both pushed each other to do better. Sometimes I even admired him in defeat.

Competition is a sensitive subject in the work place. Nearly all industries use it – some professions – such as trading and sales – even thrive on it. But often, competition can be used in the wrong way. Companies can create a “win at any cost” culture, even if it means walking over others. Employees can become stressed and over pressurised. Everyone is out for themselves.

But healthy competition is different. It is based on using fair rules and equal opportunity for all. As social creatures, we are motivated to please others, to gain significance. Healthy competition allows us to do this by focussing on pushing each other to increase individual and group performance. The aim is to continuously improve and grow – not to gloat and feel superior.

Although difficult to achieve, creating an environment of healthy competition is a powerful tool for leaders.

Here are some ways how great leaders create healthy competition.

They develop a respect for the game and the rules

For those of you who don’t know, in England we are mad followers of a game called Rugby. Essentially, it’s two teams of 15 colossally built men charging at each other with full might trying to carry a ball over the opponents line.

For those who have seen if for the first time, you’d be forgiven for thinking its a sporting version of a brawl. Blood, broken bones, immense pain.

Yet something very unique happens on the rugby field. The game is played with an amazing spirit. Players embrace each other on opposite teams after the game. There is huge respect for each other and the game is played with the highest level of sportsmanship.

That’s because despite the highly physical exterior, rugby players first and foremost have huge respect for the game. They respect the rules and it’s all about winning in the right way. Rugby is more than a game – it is a code of conduct – almost a way of living. A symbol of honor and pride.

Great leaders foster such an attitude. Sure, results are important but so is working with the right attitude and spirit. Great leaders create healthy competition by firstly clearly emphasizing the way to win fairly. To respect each other.

Because playing fair is the only way to get long term success.

They celebrate at multiple levels – not just winning

Most companies only recognise the best. The top 2%. Cash, awards and even Rolexes are given to those who beat everyone else.

Everyone else gets nothing.

With that approach, most employees get alienated. Disconnected from management. Even resentful.

It’s not all about being the highest revenue generator. Especially if you have a negative effect on those around you. What about the biggest team player? Or the most improved employee? Or the office manager who holds the whole place together?

Great leaders make sure that everyone has the opportunity to gain recognition. They create healthy competition by allowing people to focus on their strengths, and to develop their weaknesses.

After all, no one is perfect at everything.

They engage in competition themselves

It’s not very easy to inspire others in the comfort of your office chair. When your own situation has little competition or you don’t practice what you preach.

The best leaders set the example. They instil healthy competition by competing with others themselves. I once worked with the CEO of a large telesales company who used to have a weekly in house competition to see who could score the highest customer satisfaction score every Friday from 4pm to 5pm. The best thing was, he would take part on the sales floor himself – and everyone’s score would come up on their IT system in real time. Not only was it good fun and productive, he also inspired his staff by getting involved himself.

Great leaders embrace competition themselves. Whether it is winning market share, increasing sales or outdoing a competitor, they lead from the front.

They practice healthy competition.

Conclusion

Competiveness can be healthy.

It pushes us to improve, to innovate, to grow.

Hiring managers can gain much from hiring those people who embrace competition provided they follow the magic rule – they play fairly. With a love for the game.

Would you like some healthy competition?

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