A few months ago the president of the board told me I wasn’t good at my job.
Well, he didn’t verbalized his thoughts with words to me. What he did was actually more hurtful to me.
He “told me” I wasn’t doing a good job at my work by stepping in and doing my job for me. Ouch!
I was attending the monthly meeting for one of the boards on which I sit and we were planning a major asset acquisition. We had the financials in place, but everything wasn’t yet complete. We had some major hurdles to leap. We had some internal and external selling to do and we needed to gain the buy-in of the critical mass of everyone involved.
There were stakeholder meetings to convene, presentations to compile, key messages to construct – all the typical elements a change communication strategist like me gets her hands dirty on. We were playing in my sandbox. I was in charge of the tasks and was ready, willing, and capable to make everything come into place.
But rather than being involved in my job, it was done without me! I wasn’t consulted on any of it.I went home and steamed.
“What good was I doing on the board if my skills aren’t utilized? Why was I bothering to invest my time? Who does he think he is, anyway?”
I couldn’t believe that I was “dissed” so badly. I was angry, hurt, and felt targeted. But the biggest source of pain comes from the fact that I was clobbered from someone on my team!
Competition Doesn’t Come Just From Competitors
In addition to being on a board, I am also a small-business owner. I’m accustomed to keeping an eye on my competitors so that I can continue to do what I do. This concentration toward competitive forces has always been directed outside of my firm or team. What took me by surprise with the incident at the board was that competition came from members of my own “team.”
Surprising? Yes! But it reminded me of one salient point about the nature of competitive forces:
Competition is based on interest, not on title, market share, or position. Let’s face it, if someone – friendly or not – has an eye on the same interests as you, you’ve got competition.
Not long after my board encounter, I sat in a client’s office as she worried that key responsibilities were slowly being stripped from her organization by the leader of another business unit. The evidence appeared to support her claim.
Later, a colleague vented about a decision his client made to allow a competitor agency to attend one of his meetings. The client had an ongoing relationship with both agencies and hoped that by allowing mutual access, both consultants would gain insight into the company’s needs.
Instead of sitting quietly and observing, however, the consultant from the competitor agency chimed in with opposing views, nitpicked my colleague’s approach and created an uncomfortable atmosphere.
“I was heckled in my own meeting!” he told me.
Surprise, Surprise, Surprise…
Unexpected competition can lead to unexpected reactions.
When competition takes us by surprise, when it sets up a lawn chair and heckles us in our own backyard, things can get nasty.
There are three typical responses to an unexpected backyard visitor.
We’re often so busy as leaders that we lose site of the influences outside our ranks. Why, for example, would the president of our board want to take on the communications responsibility when he had expert resources at his disposal? Had I done something wrong? Was my work to date unsatisfactory? Where was this coming from? When we are blindsided, we cannot help but begin questioning.
That barrage of self-doubt can make us a little crazy. And crazy thinkers are rarely clear thinkers.
2) Sell the house, we’re moving
If we can’t protect our own territory, what’s the sense in staying? As leaders, we’re quick to blame ourselves, especially when we feel we’ve failed. As my client told me about the responsibilities she was at risk of losing, she blurted out, “Let them have what they want. I’m done!”
Real leaders aren’t quitters by nature, but we can be too quick to cut our losses.
3) Friendly neighbors becomes nasty neighbors
The saddest reality of “backyard” competition is that it can make us less cooperative, at least in the short-term. It’s a natural response. If “playing nice” leads to a sense of being invaded, why play nice anymore? My consulting colleague certainly played nice by allowing a competitor into his meeting.
He’s not likely to allow it again.
Keep Your Cool
Handle unexpected competition “without losing your cool” is they to keeping your effective leadership on track.
So what to do when you come face-to-face with the competitor sneaking into your yard? Let yourself go through the shock and then ask yourself three questions.
1) What are the needs that I’m not fulfilling? When competition enters your yard, it’s found an opening. It’s your yard. You must close the gaps.
2) Is there even a problem that needs fixing? Often competitors strengthen us in unforeseen ways. Consider the prospects in your situation beyond the temporary setback.
3) If there is a problem, what is required to fix it? Competition can be a wake up call that the landscape in which you work has changed. Do what it takes to understand the new landscape. Then draw a new map.
Competition happens. Without it we’d grow stale, bored, and worse. When it sneaks into the safest sanctuaries of your life and career, find opportunity. Not division.
What competition have you found in your backyard? How have you handled it? Let us know! I’d love to hear your stories.
Edited by Mike Weppler
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