Competitors and Competitiveness

As leaders we often hear that competitors are "taking" our market share, that our competitors are stealing our clients or customers, that our competitors are undermining our ability to be this or that... to do this or that. More often than not we fear or even loathe our competition. In fact, our most common reaction to competition is to try and eliminate it. We will try to run others out of business, or we will make sure others reject them, or we will simply amalgamate or attempt to take them over.

Absolute bunk. It is our competitors who make us who we are. Our competitors define us and drive us to excel. Our competitors help us be ready and prepared to succeed when new challenges emerge. And the spirit of competition benefits everyone in the race.

Competition makes us stronger. Whether it is competition between industry giants, between countries close and far, between health care systems in the same or distant localities, the end result is that competition leads to a better product, to better service, to a better country for all of us. It is through competition that the path to excellence is revealed.

But having competitors and having to compete is not easy, even when "good sportsmanship" abounds. It makes our job harder. It does not allow us to relax, to kick back, to rest on our laurels... not that we should. Not if our purpose is important. Not if our mission is critical.

I believe that in many ways a major factor behind their country's success -- our competitive edge if you would -- has been our fearless approach to competition. In general, we let competitors compete fairly, unencumbered by excessive and artificial regulations and limitations.

There is nothing to fear about competition. In fact, it is the absence of competition that should concern us most. The absence of competition breeds complacency and mediocrity. It fosters a 'good enough' attitude, without driving us towards excellence, towards cutting edge competitiveness. And it may signal that our purpose is actually not worth pursuing, not worth fighting for.

Success in today's global environment clearly depends on our ability to be maximally competitive -- to excel in our ability to compete with other established and start-up organizations from all corners of the world.

Imagine running the 800-meter dash by yourself. No other competitors. At least not any you can see. Will you do your utmost best? Will you break records? Will you excel? Unlikely. And what if you did have competitors, but you couldn't (or didn't want to) see them? Then you again would be less likely to be a successful competitor. But what if you sensed your competition, heard their rapidly approaching footsteps behind you? What if you understood that you were in a race with other well trained and determined individuals? You would quicken your pace. You would push harder to maintain or advance your position in the field. You would be more likely to excel.

We should embrace our competitors, and the idea of competition itself. We should endeavor to best our competitors not by putting them down or by denigrating them but by excelling and running a better race. As A.J. Kitt, a former world-class alpine ski racer, said, "You have no control over what the other guy does. You only have control over what you do."