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THE COMPETITIVE EDGEHOW TO WIN EVERY TIME YOU COMPETE
By JEFFREY BROWN
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Dr. Jeffrey Brown
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePRINCIPLE 1
Know the Rules of the Game
I try not to break the rules, but merely to test their elasticity.
Bill Veeck MLB owner, 1991 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee
One afternoon in my office, I sat in an after-school session with Sean, a fifth-grader who was having trouble getting along with his friends, parents, and teachers. He had a reputation for being a stubborn bully and clearly didn't think highly of himself. His self-esteem was low, and he knew that people didn't really like him. I wanted to connect with him so we could eventually have some conversations about tough topics. Sean said he was glad to be in my office and took himself on a self-guided tour before accepting my offer to play a game of Electronic Battleship.
Sean said he was familiar with the game but that no one had ever been willing to play with him before. After firing missiles back and forth for a few minutes, I sank one of Sean's vessels by chance. He immediately stood up, tossed the game to the floor, and stormed outof my office. I found Sean sitting by himself in the waiting room with his arms crossed, staring at the floor. I sat across from him, and together we waited in silence. After a few minutes, Sean glared at me and blurted out: "You didn't tell me the rules. Now you sunk my boat and made me lose the game." I thanked Sean for expressing his thoughts and feelings about losing and invited him to return to my office, where we would review the rules together. He was relieved to know that losing one boat didn't mean losing the game.
Sean isn't the only one feeling the need to win these days. Just as Sean needed to know the rules of the game he was playing, it's important for us to know the rules of our game as well. Without knowing the boundaries and rules of a competition, it's easy to become emotionally off balance and compromise integrity while trying to salvage a victory. When we know we are under-informed, feelings of inadequacy come to the surface quickly. That alone can be embarrassing, deflating, and unfair. We want to perform well, so we may be tempted to take shortcuts in order to compensate for what we don't know.
Parents of a teenager I see in therapy wanted their son to be well-prepared for his college entrance exams, so they hired a tutor to help him. Their son met with the tutor several times before his parents discovered that the tutor was also teaching him how to cheat by using a cell phone, iPod, and other technical devices. Up to this point, the parents had not realized just how intensely competitive these exams could be, and to what lengths people would go in order to succeed. Even the tutor compromised integrity to improve his own reputation as a teacher. They never intended for their son to cheat in order to elevate his test scores; they simply didn't understand the rules some people play by in the college entrance exam game.
If you are going to be good at a game, you must have a clear understanding of the rules. Sometimes beginner's luck can make others think you have natural talent, but they won't be fooled for long. Whether your personal playing field is athletics or business, academics or politics, church or parenting, you'll surely remain an amateur if you have only a vague sense of how your game is played. In order to become a pro, you must understand all of the rules, as well as how and why the game is played. In fact, not knowing the complete parameters of a sport or business can put you in a bind, particularly when your character and integrity are on the line.
Know the Details of the Rules
UCLA coaching legend John Wooden once said, "When you see a successful individual, a 'winner,' a champion, you can be sure that you are looking at an individual who pays great attention to the perfection of minor details."
Coach Wooden's comment reminds me of a woman named Rebecca whom I consulted in my office. She had recently gotten married and joined a prestigious law firm. One afternoon, Rebecca came to her session and asked me to give her feedback about a decision she had made. Earlier in the week, she had received her first six-month employee evaluation. She met with a partner in the firm, who delivered a stellar performance review, emphasizing her enthusiasm and praising her intelligence and dependability. The partner went so far as to suggest that with some minor improvements, Rebecca could easily be on track to make partner after a few years.
Rebecca asked how she could improve her job performance, and the partner told her that even though she was already billing many hours, she still wasn't generating enough income for the firm. Rebecca quickly read between the lines. It was clear that if she wanted to be in line for a promotion, she needed to bill more hours.
Rebecca had planned to balance work and professional growth with her family life. But the rules she thought she was playing by had changed. She was already working nearly eighty hours a week, and there simply wasn't enough of her to go around. She would now have to decide what values were more important to her-work or family.
Rebecca's heart sank and she left the partner's office disappointed, both in the firm and in herself. She was disappointed in the firm because, although it had a highly regarded reputation in the business world, its main motivation was money. Second, she was disappointed she hadn't learned all of the firm's rules before she accepted the job. To her credit, she had asked a variety of good questions during her pre-job interviews, but the business practices she discovered were not divulged until now.
Rebecca decided the rules the firm followed and the rules she used to define her character were appreciably different. She could not allow herself to build a career by sacrificing family values in the name of greed.
Rebecca didn't really need my approval for her decision that day. She made a sound decision to avoid putting a price tag on her character. After that, she stayed with the firm, only one more month, billing hours that honestly reflected the time that she worked. She later transitioned to a different firm, where the rules were more explicit and individual values took priority over cash flow.
I'm guessing that Coach Wooden would say that Rebecca was a champion, even if she was perhaps a slow learner. Because she didn't initially have all of the rules of the game, she had to learn them the hard way.
Know the Value of Your Integrity
If you've picked up this book because you want to have another set of strategies for beating the competition and coming out on top financially, you might as well put it back down or give it to a friend. On second thought, perhaps you should keep reading. You may discover more internal wealth than you ever knew you could possess. This book was written to help you protect your integrity and character, neither of which should bear a price tag-but they frequently do.
As you read on, you must ask yourself these questions: Is my character important to me? Is integrity a word I want others to use when they describe me? Do I want others to know I stand on personal principle? When it's all said and done, can I be satisfied that I stood for what I believed?
It can be tough to resist the temptation to compromise character, because winning feels good and is highly admired culturally. Clients often share with me stories of envy, frustration, and anger over the heavy-handed competitors they face in their daily lives. Sometimes they even fantasize about infecting their foe's computer with a virus, or circulating a memo that reflects errors in their colleague's work and calls into question that person's judgment. These fantastic, often unreasonable schemes usually soften after a good discussion about what matters most to my clients. In some cases, the old appeal, "Do you really want to stoop to their level?" can still assuage the urge to "get even."
But let's be honest. Sometimes it feels much better to justify revenge and settle the score in a selfish way than it does to delay the gratification of watching your competition bite the dust. When you have to deal with an inflammatory teammate, colleague, or boss, the problem is not your anger about the situation, but it's what you do with that anger that affects your character.
I continue to be amazed that many Christians still believe anger is a sin. Anger is simply one of many God-given emotions that humans have. Even Jesus became angry when He saw the money changers in the Temple. But when we use anger as justification for our own bad behavior, we damage our integrity.
When someone provokes you to anger-and they will-when you know all you can about your personal playing field, you have a better chance of staying on your toes in a defensive stance, ready to respond. Once you know the rules, you'll be more equipped to recognize assaults on your character and decision making.
Can you can recall a time when your character was challenged by an opponent and you were tempted to sacrifice your integrity for a win? If so, you deserve to be congratulated. Why, you ask? Because your opponent saw you as a challenge. He or she was convinced that you were worth beating and that a victory over you was important. If your character isn't under attack, then you probably aren't really participating in the game anyway.
Guard Your Integrity with Knowledge
Regardless of their faith orientation, most competitors would agree with Proverbs 24:5: "A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength." Does the Schoolhouse Rock mantra "knowledge is power" resonate with you? Even unethical competitors live by this Sir Francis Bacon quote. Every competitor seeks knowledge, information, and strategy in an effort to gain the upper hand. They can be your competitors, your teammates, your supervisors, your employees. Don't be paranoid; not everyone we play against or do business with is a bad guy. But let's be honest-character and integrity aren't at the top of everybody's priority list.
Regardless of whether or not character and integrity are priorities for them, many competitors think the more they know, the more they will win. They tell themselves they will get a bigger salary with more power and prestige. They want to supervise more people and long for greater respect. They want their coach to call on them first. They want to own the limelight.
By increasing your knowledge of your sport, your business, your field, or your specialty, you can insulate your character against unethical competitors and preserve your value-based integrity at the same time. Think of knowledge in the same way you think of rules in a game. The more you know about a game, the more expert you will become. The more expert you become, the more you will play at advanced levels. Ecclesiastes 7:12 guarantees, "the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors" (NASB). When your character remains intact, you will win big every time.
Be Prepared for the Rules to Change
For well over a century, the Harvard and Yale football teams have faced off each fall in what is known as "The Game." As with most rivalries, these Ivy League schools are rich with tradition and have obvious enthusiasm for this gridiron clash. Similarly, just down the Charles River from the Harvard campus is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where another tradition of sorts is alive and well.
For years, MIT students have stolen the focus of The Game by designing a prank that relies on perfect timing and the element of surprise-not to mention intelligence and creativity. T. F. Peterson confirms in his book Nightwork that Harvard and Yale players should be on guard, because the playing field can change at a moment's notice when MIT students are on the prowl. Pranks have included a rocket soaring over the football goalpost with an MIT banner in tow, an inflatable MIT-tattooed weather balloon that eventually exploded on the playing field, and crowd participation activities that deliver a punch line aimed at unsuspecting Harvardians-led of course, by MIT students disguised as Crimson loyalists.
The lesson here is to expect rules to change, particularly when a rival or competitor has an agenda other than your own. So maybe you don't play for Harvard, Yale, or MIT, but you do expect people to keep their word when they agree to do something. When they don't follow through, their integrity and character come into question, and it's not so funny. These collegiate antics are done in the name of cleverness and old-fashioned entertainment, but when the rules change in the workplace, the motive is often money, prestige, or influence. The stakes can be much higher, and rules can be adjusted to fit an unethical competitor's agenda without notice to you.
Search Out Good Role Models
How many classes have you ever taken that focused on integrity, character, or principle? I'd guess not too many. Maybe you had an ethics class at some point while pursuing your education. If you sat in such a class for very long, you probably participated in a debate over whether ethics can be taught to someone. That discussion usually ended with an agreement that ethical principles can be learned as a set of rules, but they won't always reflect the values a person actually has. I would agree with that notion.
While many theories for learning exist, social learning theory seems to be one useful perspective for understanding learning in our culture. Eminent psychologist and Stanford professor Albert Bandura identified that people learn behaviors or modify current behaviors by observing someone else doing it first. For example, a coach might yell at a referee following an apparent bad call at a game. By watching the coach yell at the ref, players learn to express their anger using poor sportsmanship, a negative behavior. The next time a bad call occurs, the players are now apt to yell at the official.
In another example, a child may observe one parent who lies to the other parent about something insignificant. Now the child has learned that telling an untruth is acceptable. On more grown-up terms, a boss who encourages an employee to embellish services or make empty promises to gain business is teaching his novice supervisee fraudulent business tactics. Remember the line from the children's song that says, "Oh, be careful, little eyes, what you see?" I'm sure Bandura didn't write the lyrics, but he would likely agree that we learn rules about how to behave by watching and listening to others.
You may not even realize it when you are being exposed to images or behaviors that later influence your character. Modeling can occur before you know it's happening to you. The media has created a reality entertainment niche by setting high stakes for people who are willing to compete. Survivor, The Apprentice, and The Amazing Race are all part of our cultural vocabularies now. We even know many of the players by name. Viewers watch intensely competitive episodes built on a simple formula that includes ruthless strategy and a big payoff. How often have you seen a contestant lie about a relative dying, a friend having a terminal illness, financial ruin, or some other fabricated tragedy offered with an honest face? Contestants often form alliances with other contestants, only to find out later that their loyalty to each other was a ruse used in the name of strategy. Unfortunately, some shows use this self-defamation of character to generate a loyal fan base and keep viewers coming back for more.
Reality television might have had some devoted viewers in biblical times. Commercials would have sounded something like, "You won't believe the lengths that Jacob will go to scam his blind father, Isaac, out of the family blessing. Watch next week to see how Jacob's actions change their family forever."
Excerpted from THE COMPETITIVE EDGE by JEFFREY BROWN Copyright © 2007 by Dr. Jeffrey Brown. Excerpted by permission.
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