Two weeks ago, I saw Vincente Fox speak about qualities of strong modern leaders. He mentioned many qualities but two that he mentioned seemed very conflicting, until I listened and thought about it more. He stated that modern leaders must be compassionate to foster collaboration. He also mentioned that competition is important for modern leaders to foster creativity and for world leaders to solve global issues. I am not a fan of competition. I have never been a fan of competition ever since I was young. However, after listening to Vincente, I realized that competition is a tool, like anything else, that can be used for good or for bad, depending on the scenario and the application.

First, what is compassion and why does it matter? If compassion is sympathy or love toward others suffering or in need, then compassion takes connection and empathy on the part of a leader. Compassion fosters transparent, sustainable relationships within organizations and successful collaborative relationships with business partners. When you are able to practice compassion, borders fade away and seemingly separate people can more easily collaborate, relate to one another, and come to mutual agreement or at least mutual understanding of each side of an argument or experience. If you can practice compassion, by understanding that someone else, depending on their perspective may have a different understanding or experience than you perceive it as true, you can start from these to reach a mutual understanding without giving up due to frustration or at least agree to disagree and preserve the relationship without burning a bridge and collecting stress. Compassion allows you to feel connected to more people and make your organization more universally appealing, inside and out.

Where does competition fit in then? Doesn’t competition exactly counter compassion? Competition entails gaining superiority over others who are trying to do the same. If an organization is compassionate, can they not practice competition? After much thought, I realized that many organizations misunderstand a more creative, deep use for competition or merely use competition in the wrong way. Competition is often based on a perception of scarcity. For example: there are not enough customers for both organizations to be profitable if they both exist, there is only one #1 spot on the Fortune 500 list, and there is only one most profitable organization in our industry. If we reframe competition and take the scarcity, the threatening part, and replace that with a use of challenge, a vehicle for both improvement and for realizing your organization’s unique purpose and contribution, competition can be used for freedom and eventually the fear of competition fades away. If you come up with an idea and it’s always the best, sometimes we don’t feel challenged to come up with a better one or a new one as conditions change or we’re never challenged to work beyond, toward a bigger contribution or purpose. Also, other, often better ideas give us new inspiration for how to make our own idea or offering even better or different. If you aren’t the best or you feel like you’re constantly competing for customers, maybe it’s time to stop forcing trying to be the best at “that” and begin working toward a different, more niche, more interesting, or more useful “that”. This approach to competition takes creativity – not forcing, rushing, or withholding.

Compassion starts within; it starts with practicing compassion toward yourself by reflecting (as in the Support Section of Awake Leadership) and through practicing compassion toward your team and partners. Competition can build strength, endurance, and authenticity to fuel your best contributions when paired with compassion. Also, how compassionate you are toward your customers and employees may actually make you more competitive in your quest for success. It’s definitely a different approach from the normal modern corporate approach to successful leadership. If you practice compassion and this kind of approach to competition, customers may come back more often and you may retain team members longer. You may find more space, authenticity, and, eventually, even ease in your day to day. Try using both compassion and competition as compliments to each other instead of choosing one or the other. See what happens.

Thanks for reading! If you’re ready to learn more about how to balance compassion with competition and challenge, order your copy of the Awake Leadership guidebook here.