Life is full of challenges. Every day we are all faced with decisions to make with regards to our personal lives, our social endeavours and our work pursuits. Sometimes, these decisions provide us with opportunities to better ourselves; to rise up whatever pecking order we are in. There is absolutely nothing wrong with ambition and drive; it is how it manifests itself into every day actions where there can be an issue.
This week, we have finally seen some action into the “drugs in sport” investigations that have plagued the major winter sporting codes in Australia. Let me initially declare my personal biases here so that I cannot be accused of any undue self- interest. I support Hawthorn in the AFL (a club that Essendon coach James Hird said he hated and suspected of gaining unfair advantages), the NSW Waratahs (the least said on them the better over recent seasons) and the Parramatta Eels (if they are found to be using peptides it will prove once and for all that they are performance harming as opposed to enhancing). Thankfully, none of my clubs and sides are embroiled in the saga at this stage however it does not mean they will not be in the future as the investigations continue.
Effectively, these investigations have focused on people taking an “unfair advantage” to advance their prospects of success. In an age where success is linked to fame and fortune, the temptation to take an unfair advantage has never been higher. Success is expected and failure to achieve success usually warrants either dismissal or embarrassment. People are playing for high stakes nowadays and they are playing for keeps.
So what advantages are fair and what advantages are unfair? The term “on the margin” is being bandied about frequently but what does that really mean? In sporting terms, the use of performance enhancing drugs is obviously unfair but supplements are encouraged. Does a pre-game cortisone shot that allows people to not feel pain and perform as their bodies would not ordinarily allow them count as performance enhancing? Obviously the authorities say not however it does deserve some debate.
I think about the concept of advantage quite regularly in my own work life. People who work with me are heavily encouraged to maximise their competitive advantage by knowing more about their customers than anybody else. There is an expectation that they are thoroughly prepared for every customer interaction and able to spot opportunities when they arise. I was taught from a young age that you arrive half an hour early to work because it gave you an advantage over your competition and that people recognise the importance of sweating the small stuff. I was taught to read extensively and to broaden my base of general knowledge so that I could adapt in most commercial situations. These were the advantages I was expected to put myself in a position to exploit.
However, I have seen behaviours first hand in the workplace that I felt crossed the line between fair and unfair; between ethical and unethical. The most prevalent one that I have witnessed is malicious gossip. Gossip is a word with such weak connotations but it leads to bullying; most of it untraceable and most of it beneath the surface. Putting others down with the hope of advancing your career is the most common form of this and it is usually baseless, pre-meditated and personal. Then there are blatant illegal acts, such as, in our case, breaching the privacy act. Sadly, I have seen this over the years as well. In a team, you can also see the selfish acts where people will put their own wishes above their team and often the business as a whole, in order to line their own pockets. I have seen stealing, both directly and indirectly, as greedy individuals look to take what is not rightfully theirs. It happens at times in every team but it is not right. It is not a fair advantage at all.
The recent sporting controversy has put the concept of fair advantage out there for all to see and ponder. For me, it has got me thinking of my own management and leadership style. My advice to my team will be clearer going forward; prepare thoroughly to gain a competitive advantage but never cross the line between fair and unfair advantage!!
Brad McMahon – Managing Director