As a former professional athlete, and as someone who worked in sales and has quite a strong competitive spirit, I know a few things about competition. I’ve also studied it and seen it play out in both healthy and unhealthy ways within teams and companies for many years. Competition is part of life, and especially of business. It can be harnessed in a productive way for teams, but it can also be incredibly damaging and detrimental to the culture of a team or company. So, it’s important to understand that there are two types of competition: negative and positive.
Negative competition is when we compete with others in such a way that we want to win at the expense of the other person or people involved. In other words, our success is predicated on their failure. Negative competition is a zero-sum game, and is based on the adolescent notion that if we win we’re “good” and if we lose we’re “bad.” It’s all about being better than or feeling inferior to others — based on outcomes or accomplishments. In a team setting, negative internal competition shuts down trust and psychological safety, and negatively impacts the culture. It usually takes one of three forms:
- One person competing against another person on the team
- One person competing against the entire team
- One team competing against another team within the organization
Positive competition is when we compete with others in a way that brings out the best in us and everyone involved. It’s about challenging ourselves, pushing those around us, and allowing our commitment and skill, and the motivation of others, to bring the best out of us and tap into our potential. When we compete in a positive way, it benefits us and anyone else involved. Of course, we may “win” or we may “lose” the competition we’re engaged in, and there are times when the outcome has a significant impact and is important. But when we compete in this positive way, we aren’t rooting for others to fail or obsessed with winning at all costs, and we realize that we aren’t “good” or “bad” and that our value as human beings isn’t determined by the result. Positive competition is about growth, grit, and taking ourselves and our team to the next level.
A very simple example of this comes from exercise. Working out with another person is a positive, practical strategy for getting in shape, because having a workout partner creates accountability, support, and motivation. Let’s say you and I decided to work out together on a regular basis, and we picked a few different activities such as running, biking, and tennis that we’d do a few times a week. And let’s imagine we decided to add a little competition to make it more interesting. If we competed against each other in a negative way, I would be obsessed with figuring out how to run faster, bike farther, and beat you at tennis. And if I got really into it, I might find myself feeling stressed before we worked out, and after we got done I’d be either happy or upset depending on how I did in comparison to you on a particular day. I might even find myself taunting you if I “won,” or feeling defensive, jealous, or angry if I “lost.”
However, if we went about these same activities in a positively competitive way, we could still compete to win in tennis or race each other in running or biking. We wouldn’t waste our time and energy attaching too much meaning to the outcome, but instead would realize that by pushing one another past our perceived limitations we would both get a better workout, helping each of us to be as healthy and fit as possible.
In a team environment, it’s important to pay attention to competition. We all have the capacity for both negative and positive competition. The more aware we are of our own and others’ competitive tendencies, the more easily we can talk about and pay attention to them when they manifest themselves. Championship teams embrace competition, and harness its positive power to fuel individual and collective growth and success. And creating a culture of positive competition can bring out the best in us and everyone on the team.
Are you competing in a positive or a negative way? What can you do to create an environment of positive competition around you?
This post is excerpted from Bring Your Whole Self to Work, by Mike Robbins, with permission. Published by Hay House (May 2018) and available online or in bookstores.
A great example of how teamwork and culture can impact results in a significant way is the San Francisco Giants from a few years ago. I’ve been honored to speak several times to their front-office staff, as well as to some of their players and coaches during spring training in recent years. I first partnered with the Giants in the spring of 2010. They had a young team that year, and some talented prospects in their minor league system, so the future looked bright. It seemed like they were a year or two away from being really good, and also like they were starting to develop some real chemistry as a team and as an organization.
They ended up making it into the playoffs on the final day of the 2010 season, but all the experts said they didn’t have enough talent to win the World Series. They got hot that October, played incredibly well in the playoffs, proving the experts wrong, and won the World Series for the first time since the team had moved from New York to San Francisco in the late 1950s. It was a huge deal for the entire Bay Area and for Giants fans everywhere.
The Giants ended up winning three World Series championships—in 2010, 2012, and 2014—during a five-season stretch. And not only was that incredibly difficult in itself—they did it as underdogs in just about every post-season matchup they were in during those championship runs. They had good talent, but in most cases they didn’t look like the best team on paper. Their ability to play well in big games, fueled by their incredible team culture, is what propelled them to those World Series titles.
They seemed to understand and embody all the essential intangible qualities—that non-technical stuff that truly drives success and performance. Two particular examples epitomize to me both the success of the Giants during this championship run, and what it means to care about each other and know that they’re all in it together.
On the Friday night of the final home series of the season, the Giants give out an internal award called the “Willie Mac Award.” It’s named after Hall of Famer Willie McCovey, who played for the Giants his entire career, from 1959 to 1980. It’s voted on by the team and coaching staff, and is given to the most inspirational player each year. In 2013 the award went to Giants right fielder Hunter Pence. Hunter was an All-Star player who the Giants picked up at the trade deadline the season before. He became the team’s inspirational leader in the playoffs in 2012, and his energy and enthusiasm in the clubhouse and dugout, as well as his play on the field, helped lead them to their second championship in three years that previous season. He played really well in 2013, but the team was, unfortunately, not going to the playoffs that year.
I was at the ballpark for that last Friday night home game of the 2013 season, and was excited to see the announcement of the Willie Mac Award, which is always a big deal and a fun ceremony. I was fired up when they announced that it was Hunter Pence, who seemed quite deserving of the award, and I also looked forward to hearing him speak, since he’s such a passionate guy.
Upon being announced as the winner right before the game, he came out onto the field surrounded by past winners of the award, and stood next to Willie McCovey himself, who was in a wheelchair beside the podium. Hunter got to the microphone, thanked Willie and others for the award, and then said something directly to his teammates that I wasn’t prepared for: “I love every minute with you guys. I tell you that every day. I know some of you get uncomfortable when I tell you that I love you. You think it’s soft. But I actually think it’s the strongest thing we’ve got.”
I was deeply moved by Hunter’s courageous and vulnerable expression of love for his teammates. Telling them he loved them in front of 42,000 fans (let alone the multitudes watching it on TV), and the fact that he underscored it by saying that love is the strongest thing they had together, made my heart sing on so many different levels.
Fast forward to the next season (2014): The Giants are back in the World Series, it’s game seven, and they’re on the road against the Kansas City Royals. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, they’re up by one run, but the Royals have the tying run on third base. Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner gets Royals catcher Salvador Pérez to hit a pop-up into foul ground. Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval catches it for the third and final out of the game, and they win their third World Series title in five years. As Buster Posey, the Giants’ All-Star catcher, comes out to the mound to give Bumgarner a celebratory hug, these two big, strong, tough men from the South— Georgia and North Carolina respectively—embrace each other. And right before the rest of the team comes piling out of the dugout to jump on top of them, you can see Bumgarner lean over and say into Posey’s ear, “I love you!” It was one of the most heartwarming things I’ve ever seen on a baseball field. It moved me to tears and epitomized what a championship team is all about—caring about each other, knowing that they’re all in it together, and, ultimately, loving one another.
Creating a championship team takes commitment, courage, and faith. We have to be willing to put our egos, agendas, and personal ambitions aside, at least to some degree, so that we can focus on the bigger goal and vision. A great team epitomizes what we mean by the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. With our work teams, this is about being all in, having each other’s backs, and being willing to work through issues, challenges, and conflicts together. It’s also about making a commitment to care about each other as human beings. This isn’t always easy to do, but it’s necessary if we’re going to create the kind of success and fulfillment we want. And when we do this, we become part of something bigger than ourselves, and we give meaning and purpose to the work that we do and to our lives—which is what bringing our whole selves to work is truly all about.
What are you doing to create a championship team around you at work? What else is needed to ensure the success of your team? Post your reply in the comments.
This is a excerpt from Bring Your Whole Self to Work, by Mike Robbins, with permission. Published by Hay House (May 2018) and available online or in bookstores.
Issues of gender, race, sexual orientation, nationality, age, disability, and religion and more can be hard for us to address authentically, since they bring up things that are both deeply personal and difficult to understand from our various perspectives and worldviews. They also touch on issues of privilege, oppression, bias (both conscious and unconscious), and opportunity. These things can elicit strong emotions and reactions for many of us, for a variety of reasons.
For people of any minority group—which means just about everyone except us straight white males—the reality of the group or groups they belong to can raise issues of pride, challenge, identity, and struggle for them, especially at work. Inclusion is about all of us doing what we can to think about, talk about, and be aware of these issues, and about creating an environment that is as open, understanding, supportive, and as safe as possible—which isn’t always easy and can be understandably messy and uncomfortable at times.
The term covering was coined by sociologist Erving Goffman to describe how even individuals with known stigmatized identities make “a great effort to keep their stigma from looming large.” Kenji Yoshino, a constitutional law professor at NYU, further developed this idea and came up with four different categories in which we “cover”: (1) Appearance, (2) Affiliation, (3) Advocacy, and (4) Association.
In essence, we often do what we can to cover aspects of ourselves that we believe might put us out of the “mainstream” of our environment. Yoshino partnered with Christie Smith, Managing Principal of the Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion, to measure the prevalence of covering at work. They distributed a survey to employees in organizations across 10 different industries. The 3,129 respondents included a mix of ages, genders, races/ethnicities, and orientations. They also came from different levels of seniority within their organizations.
Sixty-one percent of respondents reported covering at least one of these four categories at work. According to the study, 83 percent of LGBTQ individuals, 79 percent of blacks, 67 percent of women of color, 66 percent of women, and 63 percent of Hispanics cover. While the researchers found that covering occurred more frequently within groups that have been historically under-represented, they also found that 45 percent of straight white men reported covering as well.
Issues of diversity and inclusion impact all of us. And while they clearly play a significant role in the lives and careers of women and members of every minority group, it’s important that we all be willing to look at and talk about these issues, and do what we can do to create an environment that is as inclusive as possible. For us to do this, it takes authenticity, emotional intelligence, and courage – both individually and collectively.
A big paradox of being human is that on the one hand we’re all unique—by virtue of how we look, our background, our race, our gender, how we think, our religion, our skills, our personalities, our age, what we value, our histories, our orientation, our socioeconomic status, and so forth—yet on the other hand, the further down below the waterline we go on our iceberg, the more we’re alike. We’re all human beings and we experience the same emotions—love, fear, joy, shame, gratitude, sadness, excitement, anger, and more.
If we can be as mindful, sensitive, and aware as possible in honoring, understanding, and respecting our many differences, do what we can do support and empower those who may be underrepresented, and, at the same time, remember that we’re all in this together…then we can create teams, enviroments, and cultures of real inclusion. And, when we do this, everyone benefits.
What are you doing to create an inclusive environment around you at work? What else is needed to make sure that it’s as inclusive as possible?
Portions of this piece were excerpted from Bring Your Whole Self to Work, by Mike Robbins, with permission. Published by Hay House (May 2018) and available online or in bookstores.
A few years ago, I was talking to Erica Fox, who at the time was the Head of Learning Programs at Google. I had partnered with her and her team quite a lot over the years, delivering seminars for Google employees around the world. After attending one of my seminars, she came up with an idea of how to engage her direct reports in a positive way. Since she was leading a remote team of people who were located in various cities, it was challenging for them to connect in a personal way. Even with the use of Google’s state-of-the-art video-conference technology, there’s nothing quite like being in the same room. And as anyone who leads or is part of a team that is distributed across multiple locations knows, it can be difficult to connect effectively and personally via conference call or video conference.
During her next weekly meeting, Erica asked each of her team members to share something they were grateful for from the previous week—it could be something work related or something personal, so long as it was something that they genuinely felt grateful about. She asked them not only to share this verbally with their teammates, but also to write down what they were grateful for on a Post-it note and stick it somewhere out of sight in their work- space (like inside a folder or desk drawer). She thought it would be fun for them to find the Post-it note again sometime later and be reminded of the positive thing they were grateful for that they shared with the team.
The exercise was fun and set a nice tone for their weekly team meeting that day. It allowed people to connect with one another in a more personal and positive way, even though they weren’t all sitting in the same room together. It went so well the first time she tried it, she decided to do it again the following week. Some of the people on her team were more into it than others, which is often the case for things like this. She did it a third time in their next weekly meeting. She decided not to do it the following week because she thought it might be getting a little old, and she wasn’t sure if the people on her team were all that into it. But when she started that next meeting without doing the gratitude exercise, to her surprise a number of her people got upset. They had been ready with their Post-it notes and had already planned what they were going to share. So she decided to do the exercise again that week and made it a standard practice for her subsequent weekly team meetings, which helped improve their personal connection and team culture even though they didn’t all work together in the same location.
Erica later told me, “In addition to generating a practice/routine of appreciation, it also allowed us to share more about ourselves (in small bits) with each other, which ultimately led us to more openness, vulnerability, and safety within our team. And these things invariably led to better work results as well.” She continued, “An unintended outcome of this gratitude practice was that people became more comfortable sharing small ops eventually. We had a standing team-meeting agenda item that was called ‘milestones, celebrations, and fantastic flops.’”
These types of activities and practices matter for teams. Kim Cameron and some of his colleagues at the University of Michigan published a research article in The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science that found that a workplace characterized by positive practices like the one Erica did with her team at Google can help people excel in a variety of ways.
Cameron and his colleagues theorized that the three main reasons these types of practices benefit teams and companies are that they
- Increase positive emotions that broaden people’s resources by improving their relationships with their colleagues and by amplifying their creativity
- Buffer against negative events like stress or failure, improving people’s ability to bounce back from challenges
- Attract and bolster employees, making them more loyal and bringing out their best
There are also benefits to the bottom line. Cameron et al. summarized their findings by saying, “When organizations institute positive, virtuous practices they achieve significantly higher levels of organizational effectiveness—including financial performance, customer satisfaction, and productivity.”
What can you do to bring more gratitude to your work and your team? Share your thoughts or questions below in the comments.
This is an excerpt from Bring Your Whole Self to Work, by Mike Robbins, with permission. Published by Hay House (May 2018) and available online or in bookstores.
For us to truly succeed, especially in today’s business world, we must be willing to bring our whole selves to the work that we do. And for the teams and organizations that we’re a part of to thrive, it’s also essential to create an environment where people feel safe enough to bring all of who they are to work. The lines between our personal and professional lives have blurred more than ever in recent years, even inside the most structured and traditional companies.
Bringing our whole selves to work means showing up authentically, leading with humility, and remembering that we’re all vulnerable, imperfect human beings doing the best we can. It’s also about having the courage to take risks, speak up, ask for help, connect with others in a genuine way, and allow ourselves to be truly seen. It’s not always easy for us to show up this way, especially at work. And it takes commitment, intention, and courage for leaders and organizations to create environments that are conducive to this type of authenticity and humanity.
My research and experience have shown me that when we bring our whole selves to work in this way, not only are we more likely to create success and fulfillment for ourselves, but we are able to have the greatest impact on the people around us. And creating a culture that encourages us to show up fully allows us collectively to do our best, most innovative work together.
This is why I wrote my new book, Bring Your Whole Self to Work: How Vulnerability Unlocks Creativity, Connection, and Performance. I’ve spent the past 17 years as a speaker and consultant, partnering with people, leaders, and teams in all types of companies. I’ve seen lots of examples of what works and doesn’t work for the success and engagement of individuals, managers, and organizations. And, in my own life and career, I’ve struggled at times with fears, doubts, insecurities, and an erroneous obsession with wanting to be liked by everyone. My commitment to authenticity and to bringing my whole self to work is an on-going practice, which can sometimes be challenging, but is always important.
I’ve witnessed, experienced, and learned a great deal through my own work and with my clients over the years. Of course, every work environment is unique. Being at Google in the heart of Silicon Valley is quite different from working for the City of San Antonio in Texas. Working for ourselves out of our spare bedroom in Ohio is also very different from leading a global team at Microsoft while being based in Europe and traveling internationally all the time.
However, regardless of where you work, what kind of work you do, or with whom you do it—bringing your whole self to work allows you to be more satisfied, effective, and free. And if you’re an owner, leader, or just someone who wants to have influence on those around you, having the courage to lead with authenticity allows you to build or enhance your team’s culture in such a way that encourages others to bring all of who they are to work—which will unlock greater creativity, connection, and performance for your group and company.
Here are five specific things you can do to both bring all of who you are to work and empower the people with whom you work to be as effective, successful, and engaged as possible:
- Be Authentic. The foundation of bringing your whole self to work is authenticity, which is about showing up honestly, without self-righteousness, and with vulnerability. It takes courage to be authentic, and it’s essential for trust, growth, and connection.
- Utilize the Power of Appreciation. Appreciation is fundamental to building strong relationships, keeping things in a healthy perspective, and empowering teams. Bringing your whole self to work is about being willing to be seen, and also about seeing and supporting the people around you, which is what appreciation provides.
- Focus on Emotional Intelligence. Your emotional intelligence (EQ) is often more important than your skills, IQ, and experience—in terms of your ability both to manage your relationships and to bring your whole self to work. EQ is both about you (self-awareness and self-management) and about how you relate to others (social awareness and relationship management).
- Embrace a Growth Mindset. Growth mindset is a way of approaching your work and your life with an understanding that you can improve at anything if you’re willing to work hard, dedicate yourself, and practice. It’s also about looking at everything you experience (even, indeed especially, your challenges) as opportunities for growth and learning.
- Create a Championship Team. The people you work with and the environment around you have a significant impact on your ability (or inability) to fully show up, engage, and thrive. And at the same time, the more willing you are to bring your whole self to work, the more impact you can have on others. Creating a championship team is about building a culture that is safe and conducive to people being themselves, caring about one another, and being willing and able to do great work together.
These concepts are fairly easy to understand on the surface. But like many important aspects of life, growth, and business, it’s not the understanding of them that makes the biggest difference, it’s their application. And, the application of these ideas takes real courage. We have to be willing to be vulnerable. Dr. Brene Brown from the University of Houston defines vulnerability as, “emotional exposure, risk, and uncertainty.” The activities, relationships, and goals that matter most to us (both personally and professionally), are always going to involve emotional exposure, risk, and/or uncertainty.
Are you willing to lean into vulnerability and to bring all of who you are to work? If so, you can expand the impact, influence, and success of your work and your life.
Portions of this article are excerpted from the new book Bring Your Whole Self to Work, by Mike Robbins, with permission. Published by Hay House (May 2018) and available online or in bookstores.