By JOANNE LOVE
Over the past decade, there has been a growing increase in the removal of competitive situations, both at schools and in sport, for today’s youth.
For many parents of pre-pubescent children, “competition” has become a dirty word. These parents argue that competition causes undue pressure and stress on kids to be their best.
This growing change comes from well-meaning mums and dads who want to protect their children from failure and disappointment, so all participants are declared a winner.
But what will this mean later in life for those children deprived of competition today?
Competition is part of our DNA.
Competition is a necessary part of our everyday lives. After all, evolutionary theory tells us that even from the earliest days of our existence, every species is consistently engaged in a competitive struggle for life on earth.
Healthy competition is good for all. Dealing with wins and losses in any competitive arena is like getting an immunity shot against disease.
We know from research that small bundles of adversity and trauma develop resilience. After all, life is full of ups and downs.
We have no certainty that we will land that dream job or can keep our company competitive in today’s marketplace, but it would be great to know that we have the tenacity to fight back should the occasion arise.
Regardless of whether you desire to be the leader of tomorrow, or not; competition will teach you important everyday life skills, and is the necessary ingredient for your personal development scheme.
Read on to find out the value that competition can bring to your life and leadership!
Leaders put relationships first
Competition builds emotional intelligence (EQ) and social intelligence (SI), both of which are necessary to build and consolidate relationships.
It is not your IQ or technical skills that take you to the top, but your EQ and SI strengths that are crucial skills for leadership. Competition teaches you EQ.
With time, you develop greater awareness of your own and others’ emotions, and the know-how to manage those emotions for the benefit of all.
In addition, with stronger EQ you will have greater insight on yourself and others: empathy and vulnerability; social skills; self-awareness; emotional regulation and motivation.
All these are skills needed to develop and foster great relationships!
SI is also a learned skill. Recently, the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Centre found that SI was heightened in a competitive sports team environment, and led to strengths in leadership and empathy.
SI is developed when an individual’s social competence grows in relation to the interaction between themselves and the environment, and in reaction to socially successful conduct.
In the sporting environment, teamwork encourages internal benchmarks to achieve one’s personal best, rather than focussing on comparisons with others.
Leaders don’t quit
The aim of competition is to have one winner, so in most situations, there will be a least one or many losers. Successful leaders don’t allow a failure to define who they are as a person. Simply put, they never quit. Competition teaches you to bounce back from failure and respond positively to pressure and challenges, and then adapt to move forward towards greater success.
Just like everyone else in this world, you need to know how to handle losses or failures, to pick up the pieces so that you can grow. Whether you miss a job promotion or a work contract, learning how to handle defeat is invaluable.
Just for the record, here is a list of successful people who didn’t let failure get in their way!
Walt Disney: A newspaper editor sacked him because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”
I am sure every child (and adult for that matter) would thank that newspaper editor a million times over after visiting Disneyland!
Albert Einstein: History tells us that Einstein did not speak until he was four and had trouble reading, causing his teachers and parents to think he could be mentally handicapped. He was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School.
While he might have been a bit slow at the start, he went on to win the Nobel Prize and change modern physics theory.
Elvis Presley: Luckily for us, Presley didn’t stop performing when he was fired after his first performance and told to “Go back to drivin’ a truck.”
And lastly, one of the greatest athletes of all-time:
Michael Jordan: Jordan was initially left out of his high school basketball team, but that didn’t deter him. As they say, the rest is history!
Competition teaches us to look at losses to analyse performance, and discover where we went right or wrong to make future improvements. Competitors look closely at both mental and physical determinants of their performance.
This can be very helpful later in life. For example, when we miss out on a job promotion, the determinant could be physical: a poorly-written resume; or mental: too focused on already having the job and not answering the questions to the best of your ability.
Leaders are prepared
Competition teaches preparation. The Scouts have a motto: “Be prepared,” which means you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.
Athletes know that there is an appropriate time for everything; developing a new race plan, implementing a technique change, or just doing the work required to be successful. Successful competitors know that when they have prepared efficiently and competently, any hurdles can be easily overcome.
When prepared, there are fewer “surprises,” and you know how to control those that do arise.
One example is former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who believed preparation played a major part in his successful leadership during the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre.
He believes the tragedy was handled successfully because of the thorough preparations in place for such an emergency, and having the right people around him knowing their job.
Prior to this disaster, New York leaders had gone through numerous drills for similar emergency situations, such as if anthrax was released in Madison Square Garden during a New York Knicks basketball game or, in a drill which was eerily prophetic, a poisonous gas attack during a political rally in the shadows of the World Trade Centre.
Giuliani believes it was the emergency drills that gave him the skills to be prepared for that day of disaster.
Leaders create goals
Competition teaches us about goal setting. Creating and setting goals is an important part of being in any competitive landscape. Goals help you to focus on direction and represent a view of what you want to achieve, be it an outcome or proficiency within a set time frame.
Leaders create goals to give employees direction and purpose and to keep employees working towards some overall organisational goal.
We know from research that workers who have goals have more favorable outcomes than those who are just asked to “do their best.”
Goals help us to maintain our focus on the task at hand and keep us energised. Higher goals propel us with greater effort, and persistence. Goals lead us to develop knowledge and strategies to help us attain our aims.
Feedback is an important part of goal setting, allowing individuals to adjust their efforts accordingly. Goals created for competition contribute to building persistence and determination as individuals increase their challenges and develop a mindset focused for success.
Competition goals also promote good time management skills, strategies for improving personal skill sets, the ability to handle and rebound from pressure, developing a sense of when risk-taking is appropriate, and taking responsibility for one’s own actions.
In other words, many of the skills necessary to be successful as a leader!
Lastly, when a leader has strong self-belief in achieving workplace goals, employee performance readily improves due to this visionary leadership.
The future needs both robust and courageous leaders with skills finely honed by competition.
With the present shaky economy creating stress and fear in many organisations, along with the growing talk about robots and computers taking over many of our jobs, we need visionary leaders. However, there are some things that technology will never be able to replace.
No-one would be interested in a robot playing tennis or having them replicate our athletes at sporting events such as the Olympics. Competition may soon be the last frontier for the future of employment because people will never grow tired of watching fellow humans compete!
Joanne Love is a trained psychologist and leadership coach who also represented Australia in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics as swim coach. She has coached several Olympic medallists and world record holders.
Leadership coach and trained psychologist Joanne can teach you how to lead people to achieve greater success. If you would like to find out more about her, check out her website.