In a village long ago lived a young boy who loved nothing as much as competing in athletic contests. Because he was fit and strong, he usually triumphed, and he grew to love the adulation he received from the villagers around him. One day he challenged two other youths to a race from one end of the town to the other. The villagers all lined up to watch. The boy won, and the townspeople cheered wildly.
"Another race!" the boy demanded, greedy for more praise. "Who else will race against me?"
Two more young men stepped up, and again the race was run. And once again the boy won, and he laughed in pride as the villagers cheered -- though they were a little less enthusiastic than before.
"Who else?" The boy looked around. "Come on, are you all afraid?"
A woman was watching the races, and she grew annoyed at the boy's arrogance. So she prodded two elderly men to challenge him. They could barely make their way to the starting line, but they seemed willing to compete.
"What's this?" The boy was puzzled. How could he win the applause he craved by beating two old men who could hardly stagger two steps?
The woman walked up and whispered in his ear: "Do you want applause for this race?"
"Finish together," the woman said. "Just finish together."
The boy did as he was told -- and received the loudest applause of his life when the three of them reached the finish line, side by side.
Lest you think I'm criticizing the competitive spirit, rest easy. Let me assure you that this column has nothing to do with competition, but everything to do with being a winner.
Competition has an important role in business and in life. It stimulates us to do well, to succeed, to reach higher. But competition is not the only motivation that we should respond to.
You will always be a winner if you care about others and recognize when situations can be a win-win for everyone.
If you want to treat others with a classiness that will make you stand out, follow these tips from Alan Weiss in the Balancing Act newsletter (www.summitconsulting.com), which I have expanded on.
-- Listen to others without judgment. Often people aren't really looking for an opinion; they just want to be heard. Look at it as a rare opportunity to give someone what he or she really wants in life.
-- If someone is boring you with a long rendition about a trip or some other dull subject, show patience and ask how he or she enjoyed the weather or the food. They are trying to share something with you, even if they aren't doing a very good job of it. Treat the other person as you would like to be treated.
-- If you are angry about some type of service you are receiving (or not receiving) while with others, don't ruin everyone's experience by making a scene. If you must say something, say it in private. Remember that others in your group may not care about the same things or to the same degree that you do.
-- Try not to take things personally. Not everything in the world is about your self-worth. Let me repeat: It is not always all about you!
-- Paying an unexpected compliment is worlds better than giving an expected gift. Give it a try and you'll understand. And it's not difficult.
-- When you want other people to believe that it's really their choices and opinions that matter, don't rush to give your opinion or make your choice first. Enough said.
-- Watch your body language. Actions speak louder than words.
-- If you need someone's help, offer him or her something that serves their interest in return. Don't create an obligation or establish guilt when you do this. This is what I like to call "reciprocity without keeping score."
Competition will always have a legitimate role in business and in life. But your most important competition comes from within. Be the best person you can be.
Mackay's Moral: Caring is contagious -- help spread it around!