The Curse of Comparison

The fastest way to kill something special is to compare it to something else. When leaders regularly compare themselves to others, they struggle in their leadership. Every leader is designed to fulfill a certain calling. You have to stay in your lane. You’re not called to run someone else’s race. Run the race that is set before you. Do what you can with the talents and gifts that you possess.

In graduate school, I had the privilege of working with many talented colleagues. It was evitable that there would be some comparing going on between all of us. We were all the top performers at our undergraduate institutions. We had risen in the ranks at our respective colleges and were accepted into one of the top industrial-organizational psychology programs in the country. What I learned really quickly is that comparing yourself to others can have detrimental effects on your performance and emotional well-being. Every individual possesses a set of talents that distinguishes them from others. You have to understand that and stick to what you do best.

My strength at the time, and still to this day, is working with people. I have been gifted with the ability to connect with others and help maximize their full potential. These skills were cultivated at an early age. I was always encouraged to run my own race. If I had tried to be an expert in statistics or advanced psychometrics I would have struggled and probably failed. If I tried to do everything and not focus on my core strengths, I would have gotten frustrated very quickly. My calling is to have a positive impact on the lives of the leaders. It’s to help them along their leadership journey.

What is your calling? What do you think you it is that you do best? What are your core talents and capabilities? As a leader, you have to get clear on doing what you’re called to do. Do what you can with the skills you’ve been given. When I coach executives, one of the first things I help them to do is identify what their core competencies are. This sets the stage for positive growth and development.

You have to know what your strengths are. This helps you to drive results in your respective space. It also helps you to identify people that complement your skills-sets. You want to be surrounded by people that are skilled in the areas outside of your expertise. As a leader, this is the best way to get the most out of your team. It’s the way people collaborate and work together best. It’s the way organizations thrive.

When you understand your strengths, you can also start to focus on your development areas. Every leader can get better in some area. What are your gaps? Where do you have to get better? What skills do you want to improve? Get laser focused on these areas. I recommend that my clients find two to three things that they want to improve. If you go beyond, that you can lose focus on the key priorities. You can get distracted by the nuances of too many details. Keep it simple and straightforward.

With a strong understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, your self-awareness will develop. This is how you can focus on doing the things that will help you run your race. Leaders run into trouble when they try to be a jack of all trades and compare what they do to others. Make sure you run the race that is set before you. Encourage your people to do the same. I promise you that you’ll be a success in your areas of expertise if you stick to what you know best. Comparisons lead to envy and jealousy which can destroy a team.

The successful leaders stay in their lane. They know what they do well and know how to leverage the talents of others. They don’t focus all their attention on competing with people. The best leaders make a difference by sticking to what they are called to do. Take some time and reflect on this. Remember, all you have is all you need. It is all in you. Stick to your calling and you’re bound for success.

Adam C. Bandelli, Ph.D. is the Managing Director of Bandelli & Associates, a boutique consulting firm focusing on leadership development and organizational effectiveness.

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Leadership Matters. Without It, People Fail.