Love Your Competitor

When the purpose of competition is understoodラto bring out the best, to produce excellence, to create better products and servicesラit brings to light a distinction worthy of our deepest reflection: the desire to win versus the desire to destroy.

By David McNally, CEO, TransForm Corporation

As an Aussie, I am still basking in the glow of the first Australian to win The Masters, the golf tournament regarded by many professionals as the pinnacle of achievement. His name is Adam Scott. One would have to understand the history of sport in Australia to grasp the significance of this to the nation. Aussies love their sport no matter what form it takes. Even the Prime Minister stopped what she was doing to send a message of congratulations.

As is now our custom, my grandson and I were glued to the TV. Now 16 and on the golf team at his high school, he is a lover of the game. Being half Australian and half American, he had several favorites from both countries for whom he was rooting (Australians say “barracking”). However, nationhood aside, this particular event provided lessons so critical to keeping the concept of winning and competition in perspective.

There was a special moment that provided an extraordinary example of sportsmanship. It happened on the second—and what would be the last—hole of the playoff. Both players, Scott and Argentinean Angell Cabrera, had hit perfect drives, leaving them clear shots to the green. Cabrera went first and landed the ball perfectly, giving him a chance for a birdie. Scott matched him and, in fact, was fractionally closer to the hole.

Then magic happened. A moment when one says: “This is what it needs to be about.” Cabrera witnessing Scott’s own wonderful shot turned around and gave Scott a thumbs-up. Scott seeing that generous gesture replied in kind. Millions of people around the world witnessed two competitors acknowledging that each was bringing out the very best in the other.

Loving your competitor is not a concept to which organizations give much thought. However, the U.S. automobile industry is not producing the safest, creative, and most reliable cars in its history because of its own motivations. It is because of the competition from Japan, Korea, Europe, and other nations. Steve Jobs was spurred on by the genius of Bill Gates. General Mills has Kellogg’s. McDonald’s has Burger King, Wendy’s, Subway, and many other fast-food franchises. And, of course, LeBron has Kobe!

Many business experts use “war” as a metaphor for the strategies needed to compete in a global economy. The evidence is clear that the world is tired of war, and continuing that symbolism no longer serves what the vast majority of people want to create: global peace and prosperity.

When the purpose of competition is understood—to bring out the best, to produce excellence, to create better products and services—it brings to light a distinction worthy of our deepest reflection: the desire to win versus the desire to destroy. We begin to understand that without our competitors we would have no incentive to raise our standards and reach our potential.

Everyone wants to win, but reality says someone has to be second. Don’t believe the myth that second place doesn’t matter. Both Adam Scott and Angell Cabrera have won many golf tournaments, but they also have come in second many times. Each experience, however, was a building block for their fortitude, character, and resilience.

And we sports lovers are the beneficiaries. For on that rainy, spring Sunday afternoon, we witnessed an extraordinary spectacle: two tough competitors inspiring each other to a standard of excellence that was breathtaking.

Now that is how the Game of Life should be played.

David McNally is the CEO of TransForm Corporation; a member of the Speakers Hall of Fame; and author of the bestselling books, “Even Eagles Need a Push—Learning to Soar in a Changing World” and “The Eagle’s Secret—Success Strategies for Thriving at Work and in Life.”

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