Is Your Competitive Behavior Sabotaging Your Future?

“Man has risen so far above all other species that he competes in ways unique in nature. He fights by means of complicated weapons; he fights for ends remote in time.” – Charles A. Lindbergh

Yes, horrible people sometimes succeed in business . . . but it’s not their meanness and greed that works for them. It’s some positive qualities — usually hard work and tenacity — not the scheming and cheating they believe in.

Bad behavior limits your potential, because it stems from a view that your talents are limited. If you believe that the only way you can succeed is by cheating or lying, for example, you’ll be inclined to cheat and lie every time you think about succeeding.

If bad behavior limits your possibilities, good behavior increases them. Although it may not be apparent on a case-by-case basis, altruistic efforts produce very profound, long-term returns. The good things you do in business, good actions with a purpose directed outside yourself, repay you in countless ways — some financial, some social, some personal.

Being competitive in business can be good or bad, depending on the intention. When your intention is good, the purpose is to simply “play the game” as well as you can — with no burning desire associated with winning. When it’s bad, the goal is to diminish your opponent, and there is anguish in losing.

If you can learn to succeed by sharing and helping and innovating and thinking, you’ll have a long and happy career. But if you think it’s necessary to dupe and deceive your competition, you’ll never enjoy the satisfaction you seek — regardless of what trophies you pick up along the way.

Sharing what you know is key. I can tell you from personal experience that sharing ideas with your competitors works much better than trying to take advantage of them to further your own ends. This principle is also true when it comes to motivating employees. As Steven R. Covey (the “Seven Habits” guy) astutely points out, some managers make the mistake of trying to get their people to compete with one another. “They think this will enhance productivity,” he says, “but what it really does is create conflicts and interdepartmental rivalry.”

He’s absolutely right about that. I know. I have done it both ways. My earliest instinct was to set good people against one another, hoping it would drive them to achieve more. Instead, what I got was managers who were withholding vital information from one another, taking potshots at each other, and spending a lot of energy beating people down instead of making better products and selling them more effectively.

I recently returned from a daylong “roundtable” of top executives in the financial-publishing industry. Twenty-four of us, representing many of the most successful businesses in the market, met in a small London hotel and told one another some of our best secrets. Why did we do it? Because we realize that there are three important reasons to cooperate with your competitors instead of trying to destroy them:

1. Most of your vital business secrets in marketing, sales, motivation, management, etc. don’t need to be guarded, because they can’t be copied exactly. They need to be reinvented to work for another business, and that makes them different.

2. Most of your best secrets will never be copied anyway, even if you beg your peers to do it. That’s because only you really understand how powerful they are. And even when your colleague does “get it,” he’ll have a hellish time getting the people in his business to understand, let alone implement, it.

And most important . . .

3. An exchange of ideas ultimately benefits everyone. Usually, you will do better if your competitors do well. Success creates success. Markets expand when good ideas are adapted by all. Great marketing ideas are meant to be copied. They create more demand, increase the market, and provide dividends for everyone.