Many businesses spend considerable time focusing on where they are placed in their specific market or markets. Market driven analytics is an industry in itself and businesses regularly like to know where they are placed against their competition. Benchmarking this is important and knowing where and what to improve becomes a key business objective in a highly competitive market. However, sometimes the competition may not be who it seems. The competition may lie within.
We are regularly encouraged to seek out highly competitive people when hiring. Competitive people tend not accept second best. They strive for perfection and often go above the call of duty to get a job done. They tend to be extremely resilient and focused and keen to please. Strictly speaking, they make their managers look good. However, they can come with a cost.
People who are highly competitive can be highly destructive. They can focus solely on the individual gain as opposed to the team benefit. They can actively encourage certain behaviours where they celebrate the failures of others in order to highlight their own achievements. Highly competitive people can often only see to the “end of their nose” with no respect for those around them. They can sometimes be best described as “it’s all about me” people.
When I was a young recruitment consultant, I was fortunate enough to be managed by a highly driven and matter of fact lady. She never smoothed over issues or ignored my faults. One day, I was having a one on one meeting with her where we were discussing my performance. Believe it or not, my performance at the time easily exceeded her expectations and also dwarfed the performance of my team members (now that really does sound as though I was full of myself)! I went into this meeting full of confidence and was obviously quite liberal with my opinions on the business in general and my team mates.
It was the closest that I have ever come to being dismissed in my career. My manager sat in silence for what seemed like an eternity before she said “Brad, it is not very classy of you to try and praise yourself up by standing on others’ shoulders. Putting your teammates down and speaking ill of your business lacks ethic and is not what we stand for. You need to go home tonight and think about what you have said in the meeting and tomorrow you need to come in and convince me that I should not fire you.”
You could have knocked me over with a feather. I went into this meeting with a strut in my step; I was confident and I was kicking goals. 15 minutes later, my manager had walked out of the meeting and told me that I could lose my job. What had happened? How did I stuff it up so badly and so quickly?
Well, that night was certainly a night of reflection for me. I thought about what I had said and it actually made me shudder. I made light of a team mate who was struggling to fill a job. I gossiped about a team mate who had broken up with her partner. I rolled my eyes when my manager raised compliance issues. I deliberately ignored her requests. I was argumentative just because I could be. I criticised her management of a certain situation. Finally, I criticised the overall direction of the business; a position of which I certainly felt qualified to make comment (with no understanding of the context of course)!
I am not really sure what happened that day. My ego ran rampant and I became an incredibly selfish member of staff. I was rude and arrogant and attempted to disguise it with my sarcastic humour. I deliberately asked questions I knew would make my manager uncomfortable just so I could show her how smart I was. I tried to assert my supposed intellectual superiority over her (ironic because she was and remains much more intelligent than me). I was rude and condescending to her. I did all of this safe in the knowledge that I was untouchable; I was a high achiever.
I am eternally grateful that I was not sacked the next day but in hindsight I should have been. I probably saved my job by showing genuine remorse and starting the conversation by apologising. I didn’t argue and I certainly didn’t try to justify myself. I acknowledged that I was a jerk but it wasn’t until I sat back and thought about it that I realised what I was doing. I remember that day like it was yesterday.
I was so competitive that I lost sight of who I was competing with. I measured success by watching others fail and being able to point my fingers at them. I really did elevate myself by pushing others down. I was fortunate to have a leader at the time who was prepared to stand up to me and get me to see what I was doing.
Competitive people (and I am certainly one of them) are great to have in a team. The challenge for any leader or manager is to make sure they know who their competition is and channel their behaviour accordingly. Otherwise, like me, they deserve to be sacked!
Brad McMahon – Managing Director