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David Hegg: Competition or collaboration?

Ethically Speaking

Posted: October 3, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Updated: October 4, 2010 4:55 a.m.

As Americans, we thrive on competition. Our economy is built on it, our love for sport demands it and our addiction to winning depends on it in consistent doses.

We compete for business, resources, attention and even for the best parking space. Cut us and we bleed competition, so it is no wonder we’ve foolishly come to allow competition to get out of hand in so many ways, in so many arenas and with so many devastating results.

I love to compete. In my younger years, I lived for athletic contests and like so many of my peers, the older I get, the better I remember being. My memory may be overstating my ability, but there is no understating my love for the game and even more, my love for winning.

While I support competition as a foundational concept in our country, I do believe we are watching a new form of competition take hold all around us, and it is withering our collective soul.

I’m talking about a kind of competition that not only tries to win the contest, but also to ruin and destroy the opponent. We see this up close and personal in the political arena. It seems it isn’t enough to win the vote and occupy the office. We also have to vilify the other side as a preemptive strike against the possibility they may succeed in future elections.

This makes the business of politics largely an ongoing set of actions designed not to make America better but to continue the victory celebration. In the current political environment, winning just means gaining the advantage in upcoming contests.
It ought to mean more.

Best-selling leadership guru John C. Maxwell describes three ways people engage, in his book “The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player.”

First, there is competition. When we compete, we’re actually working against one another. There is active engagement for the purpose of thwarting our opponent’s efforts. In this kind of engagement, there is only one winner. When competition is the primary activity, we are in a win-lose situation.

The next level of engagement is cooperation. This exists when two or more are involved in a common pursuit and realize they can both gain if they will work together.

Maxwell describes this as “working alongside one another agreeably.” Such cooperation is essential in so many areas of life, including marriage and family, the workplace and even on the freeway. When we cooperate rather than compete, we can make it a “win-win” situation.

I think most Americans would settle to see cooperation become more widespread. We’d like to see our political leaders cooperate, our civic leaders dialogue more with community groups and businesses and just generally see more cooperation than competition in finding solutions to society’s challenges.

But as good as cooperation sounds, it is really just another way of defining compromise. Cooperation really doesn’t demand that I change my core beliefs; it only means finding a way to walk with my opponents agreeably. While this may make for more courtesy and civil discourse, it doesn’t often mean the best solutions are found and implemented. Cooperation usually means we go with a solution that has been modified to suit the decision-makers and keeps them happy. But it usually isn’t the best solution to the problem. Cooperation is better than competition in terms of civility, but usually doesn’t produce the best answers. What we really need is to go beyond cooperation to intentional collaboration.

Maxwell defines collaboration as “working with one another aggressively.” In competition, you or I win. In cooperation, you and I each win a little. But in collaboration, you win, I win and most importantly, the whole team or society wins. It’s a “win-win-win” situation.

Collaboration is an aggressive and intentional action that puts the best interests of the many above my own, and may involve sacrifice on my part. Collaboration demands that the mission take priority over personal ambition and recognition. Collaboration says “what is best for the people is best, regardless of how it may affect my standing or that of my party.”

Collaboration prizes the idea that the person with the best idea wins. Collaboration is the best way for the best ideas to be brought to the surface, and implemented well and quickly. Collaboration at its very core demands the twin virtues of humility and sacrifice.

At the foundation of competition is the desire for personal accomplishment and recognition. This isn’t all bad, but we all realize that the winners we appreciate most are those who have learned the value of remaining humble in victory.

Collaboration demands this value from all of its players, all the time. Collaboration does away with individual statistics and
places value only on the final score. True collaborators enter the arena with a lose grip on their pet ideas, and biases.

They stand ready to put forth ideas and argue for them well, all the while they may not have the final answer. Further, they are ready to support the best idea regardless of who offers it or what it may take. This will demand strong character, intentional humility and a radical commitment to sacrifice anything that might keep the team from accomplishing its mission.

In life this means a willingness to listen aggressively to those with whom we may differ, driven by a sense that none of us is as smart as all of us. In politics, business, family and life, collaboration is the highest calling.

While competition and cooperation will always have their place, let’s not settle for them as the best way to take our nation forward. Let’s demand our leaders become collaborators, humble and self-sacrificing. Let’s demand we take that path, too.

In fact, let’s make it a competition and see if we can award the victory wreath to those who demonstrate the greatest ability to collaborate. Then we’ll all win.

David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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