August 4, 2008

Good day, team,

This week, the Olympic games start in China. I’ve been watching the games on television ever since I can remember. I’m not necessarily interested in all the sports that are showcased, but I always marvel at how well-trained and highly disciplined the athletes are who make it to the competition. In reading about the upcoming events in today’s paper, I was thinking about the spirit of competition and what makes some people more competitive than others.

Competitive comes from the Latin word “competere,” which means to meet, coincide, be fitting, and to seek or ask for. Our English definition is as follows: to strive to outdo another for acknowledgment, a prize, supremacy, profit, etc.; engage in a contest; vie: to compete in a race; to compete in business.” Perhaps that’s why we use words like track meet. A competitive event actually has something to do with meeting with another to engage in a contest of some kind.

Anyway, back to my original question; Why are some people more competitive than others? In “Now, Discover Your Strengths,” Marcus Buckingham identifies competitiveness as one of the possible 34 traits a person can have. There is some truth to his observation. Some people spend their lives striving to win in almost everything they do. That’s not true of all of us, so I have to believe that some people are just predisposed to this kind of behavior. Growing up in a highly competitive family greatly influences a person to be more competitive. A friend of mine on the East Coast grew up with some of the Kennedy children. She told me that almost everything they did was in competition with other members of the family or close friends. Joe Kennedy brought up his children to be highly competitive, and we can see from history that it’s a trait that has put many of the Kennedys into high positions in business and politics.

A few years ago, my mother joined a shuffle board team at her retirement community. She was very excited, going on and on about how she had done so well in her first game and how much she was enjoying it. I said something like, “Gosh, Mom that’s great exercise for you.” She replied sharply, “I don’t do it for the exercise, I do it to win!” I suddenly realized that my mother had always tried to be the best at whatever she did, and striving for that brought her the most enjoyment. This trait often shows up in me in my inability to lose gracefully. I don’t always have to win, but I sure hate to lose!

Many of us work with people who are highly competitive. Working on the same team with such people can be difficult. Their overwhelming desire to always win leaves very little room for failure, and it’s hard not to feel judged as the competitive person continues to raise the bar and set standards that are often hard to meet. But most competitors love doing whatever they need to do to win, and their inspiration can carry a team much farther when the going gets tough. Somehow the greater the challenge, the more these competitive people dig in and ramp up their skills and energy level to try to meet it and then overcome it.

This week, see if there are people you work with or know who are highly competitive. Try to appreciate their dedication and strong desire to win. If you have a competitive streak, ask yourself what brings it out in you? When you become more competitive, is it for yourself or for the team? Do you try to use your competitive nature to help your teammates, or do you often try to overpower them? How can we use competition to work together in a more healthy and productive way?

This week, as the Olympics begin, enjoy the spirit of competition in its finest form.  We’ll have the opportunity to see the winners and the losers and the lessons they learn from their extraordinary experience as they compete on the world stage.

Have a great week!


Kathleen Doyle-White
Pathfinders Coaching
(503) 296-9249

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