Being competitive can be good or it can be dysfunctional. Effective entrepreneurs learn the difference.

Most entrepreneurs are competitive by nature. Being a competitive man isn’t a bad thing.

Sometimes, we watch some men take competition to the extreme. Every interaction is a death match to prove they are winners, and everyone else is a loser. I watched a documentary about well-known billionaire developer who always had to win, even against other accomplished businessmen. In making deals, even when he lost, or it was a tie, they learned to tell him he won so that they could move on. He had to make sure everyone knew that he won, and everyone else had lost or he could not be happy.

When viewed at this extreme, the myth that being competitive makes you an evil person causes some people to pretend they are not.

There is a very simple test:

  • Mission – The reason your business exists?
  • Need – Who does it serve and how do you know if you are accomplishing the mission?
  • Passion – When you aren’t successful in accomplishing your mission, do you try harder?

If you answered yes, you are keeping score in some way. Money may not be the only end-game for you, but you know when you are accomplishing what you want to. You win when you achieve the goal or mission on a regular basis.


Good people who are competitive can have a bigger positive impact. Usually, dysfunctional people who are competitive have a magnified destructive effect.

Redefining Your Personal Wins

As entrepreneurs and leaders, we are told to hire people smarter than us. Smarter doesn’t mean IQ. It means you hire people who add something to the mix or have talents and skills you don’t. IQ may or may not be part of the equation.

If they are high performers, they could outshine you.

Competitive people may be motivated to try harder to stake out a win. The new hotshot sales guy just pulled in a $500,000 deal, but I’ve done $1 million deals.

Some friendly internal competition is good. It pushes your A players to excel.

You can often spot the dysfunctional or narcissistic leader by how they always claim some part of a win as their own, even when seeming to praise someone else. Have you heard statements like this before?

  • I have a guy who works for me who just closed a $3 million dollar deal.
  • I helped Susan negotiate a deal for the international rights to a widget that is going to make us.

If you are the CEO or owner of the company, everyone knows it. There is no need to reinforce that information when praising good performance.

The key to embracing strong leadership is to redefine how you win.

When the Team Wins

Because of our familiarity with sports and other team accomplishments, it is relatively easy for many leaders to transition to this level. “We won” is not so hard because you are part of the team.

The trick is to be self-aware here and look at your role and language in the mirror. Can you only celebrate the win if you are the quarterback or pitcher?

Creating team wins, where you are not involved, should be your ultimate goal. That is the state where you achieve freedom from the job of running a business, to being a successful business builder.

You win when the team is winning, with or without you.

When Someone on the Team Wins

This level takes a little more confidence in your self-worth and more importantly, the ability to focus on the big win instead of the little ones. When you are going for the Stanley Cup, not for most goals scored on your team, you no longer care who on the team scores.

At the highest levels, most competitors are focused more on improving themselves and their team than continuously ranking themselves against others. In most things, you get better playing against people better than you. Without significant competition, you would become complacent and weak.

When you master this level, you can genuinely embrace the wins of people on your team, your clients, your vendors and even your competition.

To win the bigger game, you need to encourage both team and individual wins.

Seeking Recognition

Many people enjoy or even need some personal recognition for what they do. Competitive people are often in this camp as well. Others are motivated just knowing they’ve won and are fine with being out of the public eye.

“You can have anything you want in life if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” ~ Zig Ziglar

The competitive people to be wary of are the ones who are never really concerned about anyone else getting what they want. They never strive for win-win, they go for win-lose every time.

Which leaders, entrepreneurs, or business people do you know out there who never talk about anyone else winning? Or if they do talk about the success of others, it somehow relates back to them?

Walk away.

If you can’t or won’t leave, be sure that you know what motivates them. Make sure you win even when they think you lost. Remember, dysfunctional or narcissistic leaders will throw anyone under the bus to feed that monster when it suits them, and they won’t feel bad about it either.

I prefer to define my wins from the bigger view, the one that comes from serving and building others up. A rising tide lifts all boats. It is not only the right thing to do; it is a profitable way to do business.

Winning is this way satisfies my competitive nature just fine.

This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project.

Photo Credits (modified) – Pixabay