Leadership is Not a Contest


I live in a culture that makes everything a contest.

We take metaphors from sports and try to apply them to every activity of life. We live in a time when the language of athletics has become abbreviations to describe how we live. We have created a culture in which a Hail, Mary has become a football play.

We turn designing, baking, singing, cooking, fixing household problems, dancing, running a business into contests. We watch stories about crime and justice, social issues, relationships and see them as contests. We turn how we choose our leaders and representatives into contests, then criticize them for the ways they act.

I have a friend who says that all of life is a competition.

I know people who see their own leadership as a contest. Some of them compete with other potential leaders, some compete with themselves. They earn points by meeting goals, accomplishing tasks, getting things done.

The focus of their leadership is on defeating the competition. They are out to win.

The leaders who inspire me do not lead to defeat anyone, including themselves. The leaders who inspire me lead from their deepest selves. They explore their true selves, and share what they discover with the people around them.

I believe in knowing myself as intimately as possible and holding myself to meaningful standards. I do not believe that I, or other leaders, are opponents or adversaries that I need to demonstrate I can defeat.

Leadership is not about defeating someone or earning points. Leadership is more important, deeper, than that.

I become a stronger leader by learning the lessons life has to teach me. I explore the mysterious passages of my deepest self, and share what I learn with the people around me.

Is your leadership a contest? Who is your opponent?

[Image by Bill Tyne]

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  • http://www.tweetconnection.com Samantha

    When leadership is a contest, everyone loses!

    Excellent post Greg.

  • Strategic Monk

    Thank you, Samantha!

    Yes, competitive “leadership” is a competition with no winner.

  • http://katenasser.com Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™


    I have to say this is one of the most powerful posts on leadership I’ve ever read. I think you should make a poster of the title so we could “pin” it everywhere.

    Leadership is not a contest!

    Just because people who can only see the world as a competition think that it is, does not change the truth that it isn’t.


    I love this post.


    Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

  • Strategic Monk

    Thank you, Kate!

    Yes. Our perception of the world, the people around us, and ourselves shapes how we respond. It is our ability to take a breath and question what “everyone” already knows that makes authentic leadership possible.

  • http://www.unfoldingleadership.com/blog Dan Oestreich

    Beautifully said, Greg, and totally awesome. What a great piece you’ve written!

  • Panteli Tritchew

    We are culturally inculcated, deeply, from K-Forever with artificial binaries. More specifically, we buy into Right/Wrong in the classroom, and Win/Lose on the playground. There are many layers to this onion, and to deprogram ourselves requires the kind of deep work you write about here. Great post, Greg!

    • Strategic Monk

      Thank you, Panteli!

      Yes. It takes deep work to slow down, pause, take deep breaths, and remember what we know to be true. Each step we take can be a step in the direction of understanding.

  • http://www.thindifference.com Jon Mertz

    Well said, Greg. I learn most from trying to understand myself and engaging with others and their experiences. Leading is about getting better at what we do each day and how we collaborate with others to get closer to realizing a greater purpose. Thanks. Jon

    • Strategic Monk

      Thank you, Jon.

      Yes! We learn as we get to know our true selves more clearly and more deeply. As I recognize the obstacles I put in my own path, I can share myself with the people around me. What I learn from myself helps me appreciate them more authentically.