“Success is not about competition -- it’s about contribution” says Adam Grant author of Give and Take.
Watching the USA compete against Europe in the Ryder Cup made me think about this quote. Every two years the top golfers in the world compete in a team match. They participate as an honor and privilege as no prize money is involved. The overwhelming display of intense emotions both high and low demonstrated to me how they wanted to contribute to something greater than the mere expression of themselves.
Do we desire to contribute to something greater?
We admire the dedication and commitment to individual success that we find in sports and business. In the world of sports that could be a Tiger Woods, Tom Brady, or a Serena Williams. In the world of business, it could be a top salesperson, disruptive innovator, or an inspiring thought leader. What I suspect the common denominator is among these individuals is they view competition as standards they have established for themselves. Their focus is less on the competition and comparing their performance to others and more on being their best self.
We all have within us the ability to achieve greatness, some on the golf course but most of us not! So how do we contribute to our individual success while not making it about the competition? Successful athletes and business leaders learn from the competition, but their focus is on what they can control. Not only do they work on necessary skills, but they also prepare mentally to execute at the highest level, which gives them the opportunity for success.
I watched Tiger Woods win his first individual title in over five years. The following week he competed with his teammates in the Ryder Cup. What captured my attention was Tiger’s show of elation when he made a shot to contribute to his team’s success as opposed to his subdued joy in winning the tour championship. I was struck by the difference in how the golfers on the Ryder Cup team displayed their passion as compared to how I have experienced them playing as individuals.
So, what is different about individual success compared to a collaborative contribution? What is it that causes more excitement when individuals are contributing to a group than what anyone acting alone demonstrates? How does our desire to be connected, to belong, to make a difference, affect our work and our play?
Consider the top salesperson, disruptive innovator, or inspiring thought leader. When they work in a collaborative way, they don’t have the stress or anxiety of staying on top, being the most creative, or giving the best speech. They are not thinking competitively about their personal gains. Instead, they are energized, satisfied, and inspired as they realize how their individual contributions ripple out into more jobs, new products, motivated employees and increased customer satisfaction.
What if we were to totally integrate the attributes of an individual contributor with the attributes of a collaborative contributor? What if no one cared who took the credit for the results, good or bad? Would we achieve more? Would we be more engaged? Would we feel more connected? I believe we would embrace the experience, the hardships and the victories. We would be more inclined to take calculated risks and less inclined to play it safe. Individual creativity and clarity would heighten as we feel a sense of freedom to express our highest self. Leaders need to cultivate an environment that recognizes the individual personality but also brings out the collaborative contributor in each of us.
For many of us, even being our best self eventually leaves us desiring more. While we may personally get accolades and recognition, always striving to be our best can be exhausting and lonely. Fortunately, there is a better self than a best self. The better of best is our highest self which considers everyone and contributes to the success of all. Some of us may exclaim, “What is in it for me?” When working from that premise less is accomplished, and there is an atmosphere of acrimony. Think of what a difference it would make if “What’s in it for me” is replaced with “How best can I work with others for the good of my company, my community, my family?” We can collaborate as our highest self when we first take the responsibility to show up as our best self. As Adam Grant notes success is about making contributions.