Effective leaders understand competition and the art of using competition in strategically improving performance. The big difference between the performance and results of government-run companies when compared to their counterparts in the private sector is a direct result of competition. In any industry, regulators seek to break monopoly and introduce competition. Competition helps raise quality of products and services, lowers prices and improves performance levels.
Effective leaders use competition to improve performance levels.
This post contains four flavors of competition and how they can be used to improve performance.
1. Raising your own performance:
Sergey Bubka was the undisputed king of men’s pole-vaulting. He won six consecutive IAAF world championships and broke the world record 35 times.
So did Sergei just turn up to perform, competition after competition, year after year or did he do something else? His motivation came from a fierce desire to be the best that he could be, compete with himself and improve his own record. To excel takes tremendous self-motivation, fierce desire to improve and enormous perseverance. It is conceivable that Sergey could have dropped a few inches and still won the next championship.
Effective leaders recognize this trait and where possible, urge the champion in their team to raise their performance levels and break their own records. This is possible when you have one champion who consistently performs way above the rest of the team. As a leader you have to find a way to inspire the person to compete against himself/herself and break their own records.
b. Raising your own team’s performance:
Within a team, each member is urged to “up their game” so that collectively the team’s performance is improved. This type of competition is not among “like” people. It is rather like a relay where each person pulls his/her weight in a different leg of the race. Positioning of people in a relay race becomes very important, for example you risk performance if you put a finisher in the starting position. Clarity of roles is not only something that the leader should well understand but this should also be communicated to each team member.
In such a scenario, recognition, lessons learned, steps for improvement, performance analysis, etc. should all be done “as a team”. However, separate individual score-card should also be presented to each person.
2. Competition with an external entity:
a. Competition with another individual:
Then there is the other scenario amongst individuals where you have a one-on-one rivalry. We have seen such rivalries in movies, sports, television.
Federer-Nadal, Ali-Frazier are two examples that come quickly to mind.
At the workplace or in school we see such rivalry between two persons who constantly raise the bar only for the other to surpass it.
As a leader you ought to fuel such rivalry in a positive manner to continuously improve performances. Recognizing the talent of an individual and bringing the person into the limelight is also an important activity. Clearly defining their roles, delegating more duties or power appropriately and effectively recognizing their results are some ways in which you can strengthen the rivalry. Bear in mind that you need persons of great mental strength so that they do not get frustrated and leave the team altogether. This risk is more prevalent in the workplace where other companies will lure away your talent. One way to combat this is to recognize both persons whenever possible.
However, do make sure that you are measuring the team progress in the midst of all this. For that is the bigger and primary objective.
b. Team (collective) competition:
This is a very common type of competition and we see it all the time. Microsoft/Apple, Australia/England cricket, etc.
Collectively a team raises its performance to rank higher than the rival team.
In this case the leader has multiple dimensions to consider and balance:
a. Overall team progress and direction
b. Individual team dynamics
c. New talent identification and management
e. Task and role management
g. Keeping an eye on the competition
h. Protecting the team from attrition
Note the last point – that during all this the leader’s personality will also evolve. When you rise up to lead teams you get great satisfaction in seeing others perform and yourself just “being there” and orchestrating the performance. Sure, every now and then you will have to step in and show how something is done, but that should be only on rare occasions.
So the leader has to manager her/his own self, which is never an easy task.
Effective leaders leverage competition to get better results.