Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Going overboard with competitiveness

Free competition is the American way. We love to keep score, whether it's in business, professional sports, politics, or whatever. When the Olympics come in a few weeks, despite the emphasis on global harmony through sport, you know as well as I do that the highlight of our coverage will be the medal count. The medal count, of course, determines who can lay claim to living in the "best" country.

But has all this competitiveness gotten out of hand, and are you part it? Do you get involved in verbal jousting to determine whose idea "wins?" Is all of this comparison necessary? What do we lose when we play king of the hill with ideas?

Fallout from overcompetitiveness

Decisions often don't get made because we debate the quality of ideas ahead of the fact, and by the time we determine which is the "best" to try the opportunity to implement has passed. In addition, the previously crowned idea kings get full attention while the newly dubbed knights (who might have fresher perspectives) sit on the sidelines.

Turf wars are fought in corporations every day because leaders want to have the largest budgets, the best offices, and the choicest employees. If competition leads to more effort and more focus it's OK with me. I've been involved in spurt incentive programs for marketing campaigns for years. But when egos become more important than the strategic plan there's trouble in River City.

To what lengths will you go to win?

The capitalist economic system says, in effect, "to the winner go the spoils." Stock prices go up and salaries follow suit (sometimes to a ridiculous level in my opinion.) The idea is that healthy competition makes everyone stronger because they rise to the occasion. But we've read too often in the headlines how leaders stooped to actions far short of honorable in pursuit of the win.

Where can we find a model for ethical competition? Brittania documents that King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table had a strict code of honor that they followed:

  • To never lay down arms

  • To seek after wonders

  • When called upon, to defend the rights of the weak with all one's strength

  • To injure no one

  • Not to attack one another

  • To fight for the safety of one's country

  • To give one's life for one's country

  • To seek nothing before honour

  • Never to break faith for any reason

  • To practice religion most diligently

  • To grant hospitality to anyone, each according to his ability

  • Whether in honour or disgrace, to make a report with the greatest fidelity to truth to those who keep the annals

If we could commit to and strive to operate by their code, to seek the good of the whole and pursue it with honor and faith...what a wonderful environment in which to work and live - and compete.

1 comment:

Pat Newcomb said...

Julie -
This is great food for thought. Thanks for bringing in the core values of the original Knights of the Round Table to remind us that we have let "winning is everything" to become the ONLY value at the detriment to all others.
I think an exercise such as this would be an important and instructive component of effective leadership development for our current and future leaders. THANKS!