Legitimate Leadership argues that a goal which is about competing to win is not helpful – in the first instance, because victory or defeat are largely outside of our control. A focus on winning is moreover potentially debilitating. This is because a focus on beating the competition leads to a fear of failure which often actually reduces rather than enhances performance. We believe that the goal should not to be better than the rest. Rather the goal should be to continually strive to be better than before. And this can only be achieved through a relentless, albeit incremental, lifting of behavioral and performance standards. In that sense a “worthy rival” who highlights areas of improvement in ourselves can be extremely helpful. Making the shift from “arch competitor to be beaten at all costs” to “worthy rival who we can learn from and possibly even collaborate with” is however no easy task. It requires a level of personal maturity which is not easy to achieve. It requires a capacity to contradict a strong drive that most of us have (to win) in order to do what is right. It necessitates a preparedness to suspend our need for immediate gratification and the adrenaline kick which comes from winning to do the hard and difficult work of improving ourselves. But isn’t that what maturity is actually all about? It is about developing an increasing capacity to let go of the “get”, and to “give” unconditionally.
OUR SUMMARY OF THIS VIDEO: A worthy rival is another player in the game that is worthy of comparison – that in some way reveals to your weaknesses that are opportunities for you to work to improve yourself.
There’s another guy who does what I do. He gives talks, he writes books, he’s extremely well respected and he does very good work.
I like and respect his work. I just happened to hate him.
It’s nothing personal – he’s always been very kind and respectful to me whenever I’ve seen him and yet I irrationally hate him.
Because of my hatred for him I am very competitive with him and I will regularly go online and check my book rankings and his. I don’t check anyone else’s, just his. If I’m ahead I’m smug and if I’m behind I’m angry.
On one occasion we were interviewed together. The interviewer thought it would be fun if we introduced each other. So I went first and said to him, “You make me incredibly insecure – all of your strengths are all of my weaknesses and whenever your name comes up I get extremely uncomfortable.” He replied, “Funny I feel the same about you.”
It turns out the reason I hated him so much had nothing to do with him but had everything to do with me. It was because his strengths revealed to me my weaknesses, which made me feel insecure – and it was easier to channel all of that energy against him, into trying to beat him, in order to make myself feel better rather than to take a hard look at myself and say, “I’ve got some work to do.”
The funny thing is that that was such a cathartic experience for both of us that we’ve actually become very close friends and now we work together on a regular basis because it turns out people can buy more than one book. And it turns out that easier than working on my weaknesses is simply to partner with somebody whose strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa.
In other words, you have to have worthy rivals. When we have competitors in business we adopt the mindset of needing to win or needing to beat them. The problem is this is not a finite game – there’s no such thing as winning because we haven’t agreed upon any metrics, we haven’t agreed upon any time frames. You get to choose the metrics that you’ve declared that you’re the winner in, you’re ahead with. It’s totally arbitrary: is it based on revenues, market share, who has more followers on Twitter, or who has more followers on Instagram? In other words the whole thing is ridiculous.
So, a worthy rival is another player in the game that is worthy of comparison, that in some way reveals to you your weaknesses, that are opportunities for you to work to improve yourself.
You get to pick your own worthy rivals – you can have many of them, they can be entire companies, they can be individuals. They don’t even have to be in your industry, but they are people that you respect. You don’t have to like them but you respect that they are better at things than you are and they show you where your opportunities to improve are.
And remember in the infinite game the only true competitor is yourself. If the game of an infinite mindset is a game of constant improvement, then what better way to discover your weaknesses than from those who are better than you at so many things?
Respect your worthy rivals and adapt as they fall out of the game.
In the early days of the PC, Apple’s worthy rival was IBM. Apple were the pirates and IBM represented the navy. Apple represented the rebels and IBM represented the status quo that they were fighting against. But then IBM fell out of the game, which didn’t mean Apple had won – it simply meant that the other player had fallen out of the game. They were replaced by Microsoft. Apple now represented the pirates and Microsoft represented the navy.
And then Microsoft was no longer a worthy rival. And now it’s Google and Facebook and companies like that. And the fight is no longer about necessarily personal computing or the status quo but it now seems to be about personal privacy.
And still Apple seems to be representing the individuals more than the corporate concerns – in other words their Just Cause (the 1st of Simon Sinek’s Practices of Leadership) is still alive and well. It’s just operating in a different way and they use their worthy rivals to not only reveal their weaknesses but to keep them on the straight and narrow.
Who are your worthy rivals?
NOTE: Sinek defines a finite game as having known players, fixed rules and agreed-upon objectives. By contrast, rules are changeable in the infinite game, with unknown players who are in it to keep playing. Problems arise when finite players are up against infinite players. Often the former end up mired in lost trust and declining innovation.