This past weekend I attended an indoor rock climbing competition in which my son was entered.
I’ve attended many of these events and I’ve always been struck by the special vibe that accompanies them.
The rock climbing gym was buzzing with the energy of athletes of all ages, as they prepared for some really intense competition. The buzz is not unlike what you would find at a weekend basketball or hockey tournament. However, rock climbing has a unique culture and atmosphere.
Whenever someone takes on a climb, the whole gym yells encouragement and cheers them on. And by everyone I mean just that: coaches, parents and competitors from different climbing gyms.
It goes further. After my son completed his first attempt at a particular climb, he was approached by an opponent from a different gym. He gave my son a few pointers on how to tackle the climb differently on his next try.
Imagine that – opponents not only cheering for one another but also coaching each other to perform at their personal best.
Then it hit me: in indoor rock climbing, the competition isn’t between the climbers. The competition is the climb itself. It’s the obstacle that everyone is trying to defeat. There are still winners and losers, but that’s based on skill and talent, and not necessarily vanquishing an opponent.
In that observation, I found a new and interesting perspective on some of the organizations I work with on a regular basis.
In some of these organizations, the cultures are really focused on fierce internal competition. Sometimes, more fierce than what is experienced in the marketplace.
Think of your own experience. When you show up to work every day, does it feel like you’re entering a battle zone? Department against department. Finance against IT. Sales against marketing. Everyone against human resources.
In these organizations, it’s easy to spend too much time doing nothing more than protecting your turf. It’s Silo against silo. Getting anything done feels next to impossible. Frustration, animosity and resentment are high. Trust and mutual support are low or non-existent.
Why does this happen? I believe it’s because we have forgotten against whom we are competing.
Although it’s a blindingly obvious point, far too many companies have lost sight of their true competitors. These organizations are immersed in internal competition, a distraction that wastes time and energy, and undermines any hope of success.
However, what if we operated more like athletes competing in an indoor climbing event?
Can you imagine showing up to work to find your fellow leaders ready to support you? Provide you with coaching to make you better? Encourage you, rather than try to break you down?
You would be a completely different leader. In fact, you would be a completely different human being.
If you’ve read my ideas before, you know that I believe this is the biggest missed opportunity in leadership today.
I should say that I’m all for stiff, healthy competition. It can be a great motivator. It can drive performance to higher levels. However, this is only true when everyone is focused on competing with market rivals, and not with the people in their own organization.
What’s happening in your organization? When you show up for work each day, are you focused on battling your industry competitors? Or, are you steeling yourself for an internal fight to the death?
Imagine what we could achieve if we channel our energy to outperform our external competitors rather than beating each other up. How many of us would scale the wall then?
This week’s gut check asks: who are you competing against?