Recently I read an article from Robert Glazer entitled ‘Here’s why I don’t let my teenage son beat me at basketball’. His point was that you need to earn your success yourself to avoid the danger of instant gratification, and that parents and leaders today are too much focused on removing obstacles to success. Long story short, Robert’s of the opinion, that this robs us of the opportunity to learn patience, perseverance and resilience.
Normally when I read his articles, I find myself nodding and agreeing with what he’s saying. Not so with this one. Instead I found myself disagreeing to a certain extent with his approach because I don’t believe that this is the only strategy you can employ, to convey important life lessons to others.
The risk you take if you only employ a strategy of competition as Robert suggests, is that the game could end in tears and frustration, with the net effect of no more learning because who needs to do that to themselves.
The other end of the scale, always letting your child win, is also not the optimal solution. This creates the feeling in the child that winning is easy, that you don’t have to do anything, and that that is actually the rule. ‘I play and I win’. As a result, the child experiences more short-term moments of success, the learning effect is low or zero, and it does not represent real life.
In my role as a father it’s important that I react empathetically to my child and use the best strategy that not only enables the child to learn, but also so that he has fun. Since a positive learning experience is easier to remember and makes you want to learn more.
Perhaps even more important though, is that if I only ever employ the strategy that to win it has to be a challenge, then I will never open the door to try out something different. For instance, choosing to cooperate with my opponent to perhaps achieve a different outcome.
As an example, a couple of weeks ago I was playing a strategy game with my 11-year-old son. Normally, we follow the ‘standard’ rules of ‘for me to win, you have to lose’. This time however, instead of being in competition with each other, we decided to cooperate. And lo and behold, we both got to enjoy an ‘aha’ moment, when we realized that both of us could score more points overall by doing so.
So then, if I apply this train of thought to leaders in organizations, then I see two parallels. One, that if I want to lead and develop others that I need to bear in mind to challenge them sufficiently to grow but not too much to push them into the panic zone. So here too, I need to be empathetic to my employees to ensure that they get the maximum opportunities to learn and that they can have fun while they’re doing it.
Secondly, if we apply the idea of cooperation, then leaders should be mindful of the fact that they, their teams and the whole organization would benefit more from working as a unit, rather than as a collection of individuals.
Ask yourself, how high do you make the hurdles for your employees to win, and to what extent is the shine of your own personal success more important to you than that of your team. Ask yourself if there’s maybe some room for improvement. Maybe there’s a learning opportunity in there for you too to try out something new. You never know, it could bring you more success in the long-term and you might even have some fun on the way. At the end we all need each other to become the best versions of ourselves. Why not starting by cooperating with one another instead of being in constant competition?