Last week I met the head of innovation at one of the leading UK banks.
An industry veteran, his resume is littered with success. Several years as a successful banker, then a serial entrepreneur setting up 3 multi-million dollar FinTech companies. Now even an advisor to several governments around the world on tech and innovation.
He was one of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet. And being personally honest with myself, perhaps very different to most of the other bankers I’ve met in my career so far.
And what struck me perhaps more than anything else, was how knowledgable and respectful he was of his own competition.
The guy was totally plugged in. He knew more about what the rival banks were doing than most of their own staff probably did. He even mentioned how he regularly signed up to competitor events and seminars to learn more and keep updated.
And not to steal ideas or use as ammunition in rival client pitches. No, it became quite clear that a big part of his success was how he genuinely respected the efforts of his fierce competition.
It got me thinking. And upon reflection, I realised that this was a common trait of a lot the most successful leaders I have had the fortune to work with. Unlike most of us, who see the competition as simply someone to fight off who are desperate to eat our lunch, the highest performers often use them to develop something much more.
Here are some reasons why great leaders respect the competition.
It allows them to learn
The normal reaction of most of us, when confronted by competition, is to justify why we are better than them.
To dismiss them, ignore them or perhaps even criticise them.
It’s the easiest thing to do. When things are really important to us, emotions start to run high. We become fiercely protective.
It’s why we argue with supporters of rival football teams. Or why politicians spend more time putting down their rivals than focusing on their own policies. Or the reason the number one achieving pupil tends to get isolated and picked on.
It’s almost as if getting to the top means taking everyone else down. That the only way to beat the competition is to break them down until you’re the last one standing.
But great leaders are different. Rather than waste energy on criticising others, they watch carefully and learn from them. They understand that everyone is good at something, so rather than try and develop everything from scratch themselves, they get the best bits from everyone around them.
Saving time and reaching excellence quicker.
Great leaders observe carefully.
It makes them stand out
When interviewing candidates, the issue of competition is a very interesting one.
Unless someone is particularly upset with their current employer, nearly everyone you meet believes passionately that they are better than the competition. After initially seeming level headed and indifferent, most of us are more than willing to reel of endless stories of unethical practices, bad culture and annoyed customers.
Because we know that often these scare stories can work. In high stake decisions, it can create enough doubt to get the other person to think twice.
The problem is, all the competition is doing the same. To the end customer, all they hear are same scare stories told by different people. After a while, all they want to do is work with someone who can get the job done.
Great leaders understand that respecting the competition doesn’t mean succumbing to them. They realise that rather than only focus on the negatives, it’s important to be honest and give credit for other people’s strengths too. Not only does this allow a rational explanation of what genuinely makes them the best person for the job, it also displays professionalism and causes them to stand out from the crowd.
Great leaders stay professional.
It build relationships
But perhaps the biggest reason why great leaders respect the competition is something that isn’t so obvious at first glance.
And that is that the rules of competition are continuously changing.
In this fast paced world we work in, today’s competition can be tomorrow’s partner. With technology, globalisation and communication developing faster than ever, it’s important to respect everyone’s strengths and not to to burn any bridges.
What if your arch rival sales person gets hired into your current company? What if that company you are continuously deriding acquires your own firm? And perhaps most ironic of of all – what if that vendor you are always pushing away and blaming goes and becomes and actual potential customer?
Great leaders understand that the competition is simply a momentary expression of the challenges we face in the present. It’s always changing – just like people do. And just like our relationships with everyone – friends and foe – are continuously in flux, the same is true of the competition around us.
Hence the wise thing to do, is try and build long term constructive relationships whenever possible.
Great leaders think long term.
Competition is part of life.
But constant criticism and conflict doesn’t have to be.
Great leaders understand that anyone who is working hard to try and achieve the same goals you are, deserves at least some level of respect and recognition. Rather, than focus simply on putting others down and winning at all costs, sometimes theres much more to be gained by listening, learning and even commending others.
Do you respect your competition?
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