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Creating Successful Leaders

The business world can be cutthroat at times. For years, I worked with sales teams at 3M, leading people whose pay and reputation relied on their sales performance. With competitions and high expectations driving them, the sales professionals felt quite a bit of pressure to outshine others.

Fortunately, I worked with congenial groups of people who did not throw others under the bus, but usually functioned as a cohesive unit. Other teams, I know, are not so fortunate. Some will do whatever it takes to gain a promotion, win a competition, or make themselves look better than their colleagues. And this isn’t just limited to sales teams—this level of competitiveness can be found in all industries, at all levels of the company. Whenever there is something to be gained by trampling others, people will, unfortunately, do it.

This type of ruthless competitiveness can create an atmosphere of tension and distrust. People are constantly watching their backs, and are hesitant to open up to co-workers or leaders. Additionally, when competitiveness reigns, there is little room for non-performance-based initiatives (improving interpersonal communication, trying out new ideas, beta-testing a new product). Competitiveness means stomping on the accelerator and not stopping to consider alternative paths or potential innovations.

Instead of competing with co-workers, I’m a proponent of collaboration and encouragement. When you remove the competitive component, you start to function as a cohesive team (and, as we all know, many heads are better than one). There is a reason workplaces are comprised of many different people with myriad responsibilities and perspectives—we’re meant to work together, brainstorm, collaborate, and make improvements.

Additionally, when workplaces move from an atmosphere of competitiveness to one of affirmation and support, people just might enjoy going to work—imagine that! An article by Harvard Business Review says that, “Employees who report having friends at work have higher levels of productivity, retention, and job satisfaction than those who don’t.”

Instead of fostering a highly competitive environment, it’s time companies shift their focus to interpersonal relationships and dynamics. As a leader, you can help build community in your workplace team in many different ways. Try throwing brief “get to know you” activities into your team meetings (your favorite food, dream vacation, any upcoming trips or events). Or enroll your people in a coaching program, such as Insights® Discovery, which is team-oriented and known to create lasting changes. Or, occasionally plan an activity, outing, or retreat for the team. You could present a few ideas and let people vote on their favorite one (so they have a voice in the planning process and are invested in the idea).

No matter how you decide to build community and amiability among team members, it’s important that it happens. While some amount of competitiveness isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it should not come at the expense of team unity and satisfaction. As a leader, you have the power to influence team cohesiveness, facilitate friendships, and encourage collaboration instead of competition.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE

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