A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships:
How to Get Inspired by Workplace Competition

I’ve never been too keen on competition, especially in the workplace.  However, I was recently enlightened by a different perspective that blew my old win-lose mindset out of the water.  Feelings of competition are inevitable, yet with a better mindset it can actually inspire every one of us to achieve more than we can imagine.

I first heard about Janet Whalen, founder of She Breaks the Mold (a project to help women break the status quo at work) as I was developing my new virtual group coaching program, Break the Glass Ceiling: Develop Essential Skills to Advance Your Career.  A friend forwarded her website link to me and upon taking a quick look, I thought, “great, somebody beat me to it.”

I knew I had a solid program underway though and I thought it was possible we might be taking unique approaches to the same problem.  Still, I didn’t want to read much more on Janet’s website lest I might get too freaked out by any similarities or unduly influenced by what Janet was already doing with her programs.

I thought, “great, somebody beat me to it.”

Nevertheless, it was only a few weeks later that another friend sent me the link to Janet’s website and took it a step further by introducing us to each other via email.  My friend figured quite reasonably that Janet and I would have a lot in common to share with each other.  I couldn’t avoid my competition any longer and so I reached out to Janet to start a conversation.

Janet and I exchanged a couple of friendly emails and then met in person for a lovely discussion about our experiences around gender equality and how we’re each trying to move the needle through writing and programming.  Funnily enough, it turned out that she and I shared many of the same thoughts around competition, including:

“Competing means someone else might win (and I’ll lose).”

“If someone else already thought of the same idea, then I can’t compete or bring anything new.”

“I can’t take inspiration from a competitor because that would be copying.”

Janet’s done a lot of self-work around this topic, initially through a Stephen Covey leadership program (“7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Habit #4: Think Win-Win“) which she attended early in her career and later on when she reflected on competitive aspects at play in her workplaces.  She offered me the gift of a very different perspective on the work we are each doing through a quote often attributed to JFK: “a rising tide lifts all ships.”

Gender equality continues to gain momentum throughout the world and if we let it, Janet explained, this rising tide can support all kinds of new programming to help women and men evolve towards a more equitable workplace that benefits us all.

Here are some other tips she imparted to me for managing competition in a way that serves you better:

1. Be mindful of your thoughts around competition, especially your negative reactions to learning about a new competitor or in response to someone being competitive around you.  Say these thoughts out loud and notice any assumptions you might be making.  Is there room for you to bring your own unique approach as well?

2. Choose to be inspired by competition, rather than intimidated into inaction.  If you see someone else taking action on an idea you had too, ask yourself: “If I took action on that same idea, how might I approach it in my own way?”  Competition can push you to deliver a better product or idea, and it can even help you measure what works and how you can build on that.

3. Focus on your customers and helping to solve their problems, and why you’re right for this job.  In fact, the bigger the problem you choose to help solve (or apply your work towards), the more people will be needed to work on it, independently and together.  Gender inequality is a huge, multi-faced problem that requires all sorts of different skills and expertise in order to create change for those most negatively affected by it.  There is no shortage of people needed to help address this problem in years to come.

Above all, as Janet pointed out, a healthy perspective around competition helps to create trust with the people you’re most trying to help out.  She’s observed the occasional business owner who has been so ultra-competitive (think: guarded and uncollaborative) that they’ve actually harmed their business as a result, stifling its growth with their closed attitude.

We all feel competitive from time to time.  We have a choice about how we want to perceive and respond to competition, and that can make the difference between whether it stops us in our tracks, or motivates us to achieve more than we ever thought possible.

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For more on Janet Whalen, please visit She Breaks The Mold – a project she started to help women break the status quo at work. Through her experience in multiple industries, she noticed one constant…female employees were less likely than men to hold themselves up as experts, to stand up for their value, and demand their true worth. This confidence deficit robs organizations and society of our ideas and valuable experience, and prevents us from achieving our highest goals. Janet is passionate about helping women (and men) understand the very real bias women face at work and in negotiations, and providing tools to help them succeed in the face of that.

Because you deserve to be seen as the leader you are!
Are you interested in developing the skills to speak up at work and be seen as the leader you are?  Break the Glass Ceiling! Develop Essential Skills to Advance Your Career is my new virtual group coaching program that launches in September.

Break the Glass Ceiling! can help you develop a stronger presence so you can feel more confident at work and get ahead in your career – find out more on our next free tele-session at noon on August 22nd, register here or contact me to discuss your needs and determine if the program is fit.