We are now into a second summer of spectacular British and global sport. What has made it special has been the number of winners which have been British athletes.
What makes the entertainment package sport so seductive is its ability to pull at our individual and nationalistic heart strings. We can live the drama of winning and losing, see the ecstasy of winning and the anguish of losing.
The Olympic movement every four years brings to the world two weeks of diversity and inclusion creating a melting pot of the privileged, the oppressed and the courageous. The common aim is a simple one to win a gold medal.
The essence of sport is competition and events are based on either a scarcity model where there can only be one winner or the challenge model where there can be any number of winners. While competition found on the sports field is admired and rewarded, the same cannot be said of competition at work.
Why does someone who exhibits competitive behaviours at work get categorised as aggressive?
Why do competitive people seem different from some of us?
Why do we welcome competition in sport but not at work?
Competition at work is stuck in a double edged stereotype of winning and losing. But such a simple approach prevents discussion reflecting the complexity of this concept. So for as long as workers, managers and leaders avoid or naively skirt around competition the stereotype remains.
Diversity of behaviours and attitudes is what makes us as individuals interesting. So it makes sense to understand how we can learn from sports people who don't just win and lose. Sports people have to collaborate; work in teams to excel as individuals and groups; support and mentor; lead and manage.
What makes the difference between sport and the workplace is the absence of agreed rules and officials. Without such boundaries competition has become caught up in a cycle of silence and suspicion.
So for those of you who would answer "yes" to being competitive, I would bet the yes is hushed. Admitting to being competitive at work is either worn as a badge of honour or as a guilty pleasure. At each end of this spectrum is the majority of workers who probably never thought such a question relevant at work. This is even more acute for those people who never played sport.
Sport and especially competitive sport is the first place we learn how to compete and what it means and how it feels. If we see less and less sport in schools and see girls especially not playing sport after the age of 13 or 14, the chance to practice and explore competition is removed.
While such lost opportunities are worth further consideration what results is the knowledge gap in being able to understand competitive behaviours in others. That can make managing and working with people who are competitive difficult and uncomfortable. This can result in excluding those people from the mainstream rather than learning from them.
Competition is an interesting example of a concept which has become stereotyped to such a degree that we cannot make the connection between the emotion of watching athletes win gold and workers who thrive within the concept.
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