Competitive does not look for the result but for the excuse

“How can we do our best when we are spending our energies trying to make others lose-and fearing that they will make us lose?” – Alfie Kohn

Healthy competition isn’t harmful, as it pushes you out of your comfort zone to aim higher and take on greater responsibilities. However, in most cases, competition is the wrong way to get people to deliver their best.

The Competitive scale measures our need to establish a sense of self-worth through competing against and comparing yourselves to others. While it is largely encouraged and accepted as a measure of success, competitive behavior is not an effective predictor of achievement in business, sports, or life in general. In fact, studies have shown that people who come out ahead in competitive situations focus on performance excellence, or the process of doing well, rather than on the end result of winning. Competitive people compete to overcome doubts about themselves and their abilities.

Competitors attach their sense of self-worth so securely to winning and being seen as "the best" that they set up "all or nothing" situations for themselves. They tend to see most everything as a contest, and consistently strive to "beat" others, regardless of the consequences. Competitive people risk becoming so preoccupied with winning that they are distracted-from the task at hand, and easily lose-sight of their values and beliefs. This can not only limit productivity but may also jeopardize the quality of the end result.

What are the causes and symptoms of this sin?

  • The association of self-worth with winning and losing
  • A need for recognition and praise from others
  • A tendency toward aggressiveness
  • Reckless "hip-shooting" behavior and unnecessary risk-taking
  • A "win-lose" orientation that distorts perspective and goals
  • An extreme fear of failure

Inevitably, this sin creates unwritten laws such as “Outperforming one’s peers” or “Always trying to be right”.

These types of norms operate in organizations where winning is important and people are rewarded for seeming successful. Strong competitive norms lead to a “win-lose” framework in which members are unlikely to support each other’s individual efforts to maintain quality.

It is a sin that is not seen as such in occidental culture. We are constantly bombarded by messages extolling individual victory. In the United States, to be a "loser" is an insult. In the "king of sports", football, a team sport par excellence, the individual is exalted over the team. But what is the problem with competition? Winning means that someone else loses, and it is much easier to make your opponent lose than to strive to improve and develop an endless list of excuses as to why they didn't win. If you are in a meeting and you think you are in front of a cockfight, you have a problem with competition.

How can this sin be avoided?

If you commit it:

  • Participate in recreational sports strictly for fun. Measure the success of the game by the improvement in your performance.
  • Do your best to produce excellent results. This is far more productive than focusing on winning.

If you have an organization:

  • Don't have an organization of “winners” and “losers” but an organization of things well done and things that can be improved.
  • Incentivizes team results over individual results

Don't miss the upcoming article, in which we will unfold Perfectionism as the best excuse to do nothing. If you want to know more about how to manage change and build resilient organizations, contact us!