Teamwork Tips for Competitive Types (Like Me)

Ed Baldwin Career Advice, Coaching, Culture, Ed Baldwin, Employee Coaching, Employee Development, HR & Sports, HR (& Life!) Advice, Personal Brand

I’m competitive.  I always have been.  Sometimes individually and other times as part of a team, but I thrive in competitive environments. Some of my passion for competitiveness likely came from my upbringing. But there is also something in my DNA, for sure. Born or bred, I’m more competitive than most.

As you might imagine, because of my competitiveness sports has always been a sanctuary for me. Baseball, basketball, football, golf or even dodgeball – it doesn’t really matter. There’s a scoreboard, a winner and a loser. If there’s an environment where I can put my skills to the test against worthy adversaries with similar likes and passions, I revel in it.  And if I’m better than you at whatever we are competing in, even better.

Because as a competitive person I like to win. And I hate to lose. I like winning more than most, and hate losing more than most. That’s just who I am as a person.   

I’m sure you’ve met lots of people like me at work.  Some you might like, and some – well, not so much. Why? Because competitive types like me make everything a competition. I drank more water than you did, I won more accounts last month than you did, my car is faster than your car, yada yada yada. 

And that level of constant competitiveness can drive others crazy. As a competitive person let me count the ways that that my competitiveness can get out of hand and drive others to the brink:

  1. No such thing as win-win. Nope, there has got to be a loser. And I hope it’s you.
  2. If I win I’m in a crazy good mood. What, you don’t want to celebrate my victory? And in the unlikely event I lose, I’m pissed and immediately begin plotting my revenge.
  3. It’s all about winning and losing, not how you played the game. 

I wouldn’t say I completely live up to all these down sides, but I do resemble them in times of weakness. In the throws of the fight. I’ve had to learn to temper my competitiveness for the sake of the team, and to keep from being punched in the mouth by fellow colleagues, friends and family. 

So how does a competitive person like myself harness the strengths of being naturally competitive, but limit the obvious downsides of the same? How does a competitive person avoid being shunned by those with less competitive spirit? 

As a somewhat-tempered competitive type, here are my tips:

  • Adopt a larger team – don’t make your co-worker your competition, or even the department that sits across the hall. Don’t make your competition the office in another city, or the other division in your company. Instead, make your competition another company.  Or another industry that is contemplating entering your market space.  By expanding “your team” to everyone in your company, you won’t alienate others you work closely with and need to rely on to achieve success. If you focus your competitive spirit externally, you’ll collaborate more effectively with everyone in your company and be projecting your competitive energy in a way others will appreciate. 
  • Be humble in victory – nothing takes the edge off your uber competitiveness more than honoring your competition when you win. Make sure in your acceptance speech (or cooler talk when you just won the intramural competition) that you talk about your competition, how gallantly they competed, how strong of an effort they put forth, and how having them as a worthy competitor has made you and your team better. Stay focused on others in victory rather than you and your team. No one likes to hear others gloat. It’s unbecoming, and provides fuel for the competition to kick your ass the next round. 
  • Be gracious in defeat – again, stay focused on your competition.  Congratulate them for their win. Talk about how great their performance was, and how you will use the experience to get better.  And then get to work. But respect your competition and honor the fact that they were better than you – at least today. 
  • Respect and appreciate those that aren’t as competitive as you – We aren’t all alike. Some don’t thrive in competitive environments, but struggle in competitive situations. Lift others up when you see this. Support them, help them. These people aren’t weak, they are simply wired differently.  Embrace that just because others aren’t competitive doesn’t mean they don’t care. Appreciate and honor their desire for collaboration and teamwork, that they are all about the process, about continuous improvement, and could care less about getting the trophy. And boy do we need people like that in the world too. 

I’ve never apologized for being competitive, and won’t be doing so here.  But as a competitive person I’ve learned to adapt, temper and use my competitiveness as a strength, and to limit the weaknesses that are inherent in the same. The tips above are my first-hand experience of how best to do just that. 

And perhaps my greatest learning is that success is the sweetest when it is shared – shared with a team and people who have the same passion that you do.

Because as a wise mentor of mine once advised, “Ed, if you’re leading a victory parade and there’s no one behind you … it’s not a parade.” So whether you’re competitive or not, here’s to winning, and enjoying a huge victory parade with your colleagues, peers and team.