Last week, I had the opportunity to see Dr. Carolyn Woo speak about competition in business. As the dean of Notre Dame’s business school and the recently-appointed CEO of Catholic Relief Services, she had a fascinating outlook on this topic. It was truly an inspiring discussion!
Dr. Woo talked about the role of faith in a competitive business environment, but the points she addressed are useful for everyone, no matter your religious beliefs.
We live in a world where competitive performance, rankings and scores mark success. In many ways, this benefits us and society at large. Competition brings out our personal best, helps us go further and challenges businesses to be better and more efficient.
However, competition causes us to place too much value on certain markers of success – promotions, job titles, salaries, year-end results, etc. – that are often arbitrary. We come to rely upon our competitive “wins” to define us as professionals, and even as people.
Competition becomes especially dangerous when it permeates all aspects of work. By always being on the offensive, we miss out on the things and people around us that will help us learn and grow as leaders. It’s so common to see people rushed to finish a meeting so they can get a jump on their next “win,” or talk about their personal accomplishments without asking you about yours.
Dr. Woo argued that the excessive competition stems from a lack of confidence. The best way to achieve a sense of calm in business is to know the value of your talents and work. That way, you devote yourself to competition at the proper times, feel proud of your accomplishments and celebrate others’ successes.
What impressed me most about Dr. Woo’s talk wasn’t really what she said, but the way she delivered it. She speaks like she’s having an important one-on-one conversation with you. I learned that you can – and should – assert your professional successes and skills, while also recognizing that other people’s accomplishments hold equal worth.
Effective employee engagement and ground-breaking leadership all come from the basic knowledge that everyone has many “wins” they should take pride in – and when we open ourselves up to each other’s unique knowledge, skills and experiences, we learn more and become better. And this gives us a vital competitive edge.