Finding Your Competitive Edge

I have always been fascinated by competition. What makes one person competitive and another one not? Can you teach someone to be competitive? I think the answer is largely no. I do believe that you can press certain buttons to pull passion out of people, but I am not sure you can ever make someone competitive if it’s not in their nature.

The mistake many leaders make is they expect everyone to be wired like they are, to have the same competitive drive they do. It’s not possible. That’s why each company needs to motivate their people differently.

Until now I have told very few people this story. My first full-time sales job was at WGRZ-TV in Buffalo, NY. I had recently been a sports anchor and reporter at the CBS affiliate down the street. But that station did not renew my contract. I was left in complete disbelief. I had a 6-year-old and 10-year-old at home and a wife at the time who was just getting her teaching career started.    

Deciding not to continue sportscasting, I had to reinvent myself. I was motivated to try sales and was fortunate to have a mentor and good friend give me a shot at the NBC affiliate. But I had no idea if I would be able to transition from an on-air TV journalist to a TV account executive. I did know one thing; the best way for me to beat my former employer who sent me packing wasn’t going to be as a sportscaster at another station. I knew that if I could bring in revenue for their biggest competitor, every sale I was able to close would be money they were not getting. That fueled my competitiveness. On my way to my new TV station, I used to go out of my way to drive by my old TV station. It was the extra fuel I needed to get my day started. I don’t need to get into the rest of the details but all of that competitiveness worked. I was able to transition into a pretty successful media sales career.   

As a manager, I used to ask potential sales people if they would let their kids, nieces or nephews etc. beat them at Monopoly or a board game? If the answer was yes, it was a strike against their competitiveness. Not a deal breaker but did demonstrate a lack of competitiveness and more importantly that they weren’t willing to teach someone how to lose. If you don’t know how to lose you’ll never really know how to win. Sounds harsh, but I never let my kids beat me at any board game – they did it on their own sometimes. You know what, they turned out alright. In my perfect world, we teach our kids that when you fail you learn, when you lose you learn, and we get rid of participation trophies once and for all! 

The mistake many leaders make is they expect everyone to be wired like they are, to have the same competitive drive they do. It’s not possible. That’s why each company needs to motivate their people differently. It’s cliche, but you have to ask what makes them get out of bed in the morning? What motivates them? Is it to provide the best life for their family, buy nice clothes, go on trips, have the best sports car in the parking lot; maybe it’s a combination of a few of these things? Leaders need to find out the things that their people are passionate about. What is their why?

When I was a sales leader we had our entire team, not just sales people, create their vision boards. These are reminders for people of what motivates them, what makes them want to come to work and give their best every day. What is their why? Here’s mine from 2019 – my “why”  was and always is my daughters. At the time, I had one in college and one headed to college. I wanted to travel, and I wanted a new car that year – all came true. That same year one of our young salespeople had, as part of her goals, a picture of an Audi Q5 up on her desk for her to see every day. By June, she was driving that car to work.   

At 3 Bridges Consulting we believe just about every successful business has to have a competitive culture. This doesn’t just mean the leaders on your team should be competitive, everyone on your team should want to win. All of the great companies of our day – Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix have a winning culture, and competitiveness is at the core of everything they do. It’s not just their sales people who are trained to win, everyone in their organization needs to buy-in to that competitive culture. 

As 2020 comes to a close, and your company is preparing for 2021; consider having your people prepare vision boards for their year. It’s also a great team building experience to get together and share them with each other. You end up learning things about people that you may not have known. What other techniques have you used to inspire positive competition within your team? Leave us a comment and let us know!

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