Are all successful leaders competitive by nature? If pressed to name a leader who is not the least bit competitive, I don’t think I could. I can honestly say that I have never met a successful leader who isn’t always striving to be better, improve themselves, or at very least outperform a friendly competitor.
Competitiveness can sometimes get a bad rap, but being competitive doesn’t need to have a negative connotation. Sure, it’s fun to play a better golf game than your buddies, beat your spouse at a friendly game of cards, or win a bet that pays nothing more than bragging rights. But this isn’t what competition brings to mind for me. Instead, I think of competitiveness as the kind of drive and determination that makes for the best, most successful version of yourself.
Young children often say, “When I grow up, I want to be like _____.” Maybe you’ve said that yourself about a leader you admire. To grow as a leader, we constantly compare ourselves to these people that we hold in such high esteem to assess our own development and career trajectory. This results in a constant competitive state where we compare ourselves against what we see as better than what we are in any given moment.
Let me give you an example that will put this into perspective. Have you ever played a sport or game that has a professional level? When you go out to the golf course, do you constantly find yourself thinking, “If only I were as good as Tiger!” Okay, so maybe Tiger Woods is out of reach for most of us, but maybe when you play with colleagues you find yourself wishing you could drive as far as Fred or putt as good as Jill. Was there ever a point in time where you were so terrible compared to your friends that you thought you shouldn’t play anymore? Have you ever paused to consider how the impacts of this type of competition impact your mood, your performance, your self-esteem, and even your desire to continue playing?