Like much of the world, I have been deeply mourning the early, unexpected loss of Kobe Bryant. For anyone that even remotely cared about basketball for the past twenty years, Kobe was ever present, and will always continue to be in our memories. Not many people know, but basketball was once my life (I was captain and MVP of my high school team.). Not unlike Gianna Bryant, Kobe’s daughter, basketball gave me purpose at that age. It gave me something to care about and strive for. Basketball taught me the value of perseverance, mental stamina, and teamwork. These are all values that Kobe embodied.
Reflecting on Kobe and his impact on me and the world of basketball, my mind could not help but wander to his strengths. One overwhelmingly powerful strength kept coming to mind– CompetitionⓇ. Kobe was renown for the passion and fire he had for the game of basketball. When people say that, I envision a man on the balcony living out his greatest strength. Winning a game… or championship… or Olympic gold medal was Kobe in the strengths zone. Winning was Kobe self-actualizing his strengths. This highest of highs was in stark contrast to his behavior when losing, the bane of CompetitionⓇ’s existence. Kobe was no stranger to lashing out when losing or making mistakes because he wanted to win at all costs. These lowest lows can be so painful that people with CompetitionⓇ tend to only enter games that they know they can win and avoid the ones where they think they will lose.
In a positive way, Kobe would funnel this hatred-of-losing energy into his practice. Kobe wanted to practice as much as he could. Even as a teen, he would get to the high school gym at 5 am to shoot hoops for 2 hours before classes started. He was already one of the best high school players in the country and practiced for hours on a daily basis with his team. But, that did not satiate his drive. Mistakes made or someone having a better statistic (any statistic) can keep someone with CompetitionⓇ up at night and cause them to jump out of bed. Instead of succumbing to this mental anxiety, Kobe put this energy to good use by practicing with it. He even continued this strategy when on the US Olympic team. He would wake up, practice for 2-3 hours on his own, then meet the team for breakfast and team practice. Why would someone so great need the extra practice? Two reasons: 1- He wanted to make sure he could be at his best so his team won. 2- He wanted to have an edge on his teammates, which he also saw as competitors.
As I’ve noted in previous posts, MaximizerⓇ, AchieverⓇ, and CompetitionⓇ are similar and what I like to refer to as the Perfection Package. All three strengths are motivated to reach excellence and meet goals, but are motivated differently.
- AchieverⓇ wants what is best for me or the task, as it is an executing strength.
- MaximizerⓇ wants what is best for we, as it is an influencing strength.
- CompetitionⓇ wants what is best for we, so we beat others. This is also an influencing strength.
The CompetitionⓇ strength suffers in isolation. It thrives when it has others to compare and use to benchmark progress. Part of Kobe being a student of the game was that his CompetitionⓇ was in such hyperdrive that he was comparing his performance to other greats throughout history, like Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. To be on the CompetitionⓇ balcony, you need to always have someone to compare with, even if it is past performances.
It is easy to see how CompetitionⓇ propelled Kobe to be one of the greatest basketball players of all time. But, what if you have CompetitionⓇ and are not a professional athlete? How can you use it on the balcony? Performance measurement! Track your performance and that of your teammates, colleagues, and competitors. You might need to get creative, but everyone can do this. My favorite example of creative performance management and benchmarking comes from a rest stop manager. In episode 388 of This American Life, Robert Woodhill shares how he tracks sales hourly and compares them with a rest stop manager in another state about 3-4 times per day. These two managers, who are otherwise isolated, striked up a friendly rivalry that includes some Yankees v. Red Sox banter and goofy wagers. Their relationship feeds their need for competition and motivates them at work. They had to think outside the box to develop it at work, but they did it!
How can you drum up competition on the job to keep you or others motivated?
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