A common approach to motivation of an organization, community or person is to use competition and comparison. There is no doubt that for those that are driven by potential accolades of being first or seen as best this is an approach that kickstarts movement at an accelerated pace. There is also no doubt that some people, organizations and community are not motivated by this quest to be first – or become demotivated when they realize that they are not going to succeed in a way that others are. I say this is akin to watching a track race where the slower competitors decrease their pace even further before they get to the finish line because it doesn’t really matter to them what their time ends up being.
Comparison leadership is not transformational leadership. There is not a defined sustainable element to comparison leadership in the way that transformative leaders intentionally embark upon while shifting people, organizations or communities in a new direction. At the core of the comparison approach is one of “us versus them” as a rallying cry. Yes, the “us” tends to perform really well. However, it almost never alters the “them” and so a narrative of friction continues.
Comparison leadership is very difficult at the personal level to perform. In essence people are asked to fit in while standing out. They are asked to be like everyone else but be better. It has a tension of assimilation (are you doing the right things that we want everyone to do) out of balance with performance improvement (and when you do those right things like everyone else do them faster or with better results or with improved efficiency compared to everyone else doing the right thing). Brene Brown is right: Comparison is the thief of happiness and success.
As a stimulating strategy for new action and direction, comparison leadership can get the ball rolling. This is surely a benefit. It can get people to gel around a strategy quickly, without a doubt. It can get people to dig in and want to prove to themselves and others that something new is possible. We should consider comparison and competition as a leadership strategy when it is warranted. However, once the new direction is on firm footing, we need to careful transition to a different approach to leadership that is more inclusive and transformative. If you don’t, people, organizations and communities are at a loss when they are surpassed; or they focus their energy on the “game of process improvement” and lose sight of the end user of their services.
Content such as this is going to be covered at the Leadership Academy on Ending Homelessness this fall. While we are sold out, you can get your name on the waiting list. You can also let us know if you would be interested in attending if we were to host another Leadership Academy next year.