It’s is obviously A Good Thing to be competitive at work - it means you are ambitious to achieve, helps you strive to excel, and motivates you to learn and do more.
But being competitive in the sense of wanting to win while others lose, or to beat other people, is not necessarily good for your career.
You don’t have to operate in a zero sum world.
In fact, in the workplace, it is far more likely that you will reap the rewards if you help others succeed as well, rather than treading on them on your way up the ladder.
Which is better for your reputation?
And which is more likely to lead to better relationships - resulting in reciprocal assistance when you need it?
The world of athletics (where there really is only one winner) offers some wonderfully heart-warming examples.
1. Abel Mutai and Ivan Fernandez Anaya
In a cross-country race in Berlada, Spain, in December 2012, two runners were battling for the win: Kenyan (and Olympic Bronze Medallist) Abel Mutai, and Spaniard Ivan Fernandez Anaya.
By the time they came into the final stretch, Mutai was some way ahead of his rival.
But as they came into the finishing straight, Mutai got confused about where the finishing line was, and stopped running some 10 meters before the end, thinking he’d finished.
Fernandez quickly caught up with him - but rather than overtaking him (as his coach later said he wanted him to do), he stayed behind, and with gestures, urged Mutai on, so that Mutai finished first.
As Fernandez himself said afterwards:
2. Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D’Agostino
Nikki Hamblin from New Zealand and Abby D’Agostino from America were both competing in the 5,000m at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
In their heat, they somehow managed to collide with each other, with 2,000m to go, both falling over.
D’Agostino got up first, and tried to help Hamblin up - but because she had injured her leg, she was unable to, and fell over again.
Hamblin then helped D’Agostino to her feet, and the two women supported each other as they ran the rest of the race together.
They embraced on the finish line.
D’Agostino was unable to compete further, as she had torn a ligament in her knee; and Hamblin ultimately came 17th in the competition.
But they were both awarded the Olympic Fair Play Award - and a place in the annals of great sportsmanship.
As Hamblin said after race:
3. Luz Long and Jesse Owens
In the infamous 1936 Olympics in Berlin, African-American athlete Jesse Owens competed in the long jump - despite fierce opposition from the Nazi Party.
During qualifying, Owens struggled to find his form, fouling twice.
Once more, and he’d be out of the competition.
In contrast, his German rival Luz Long was jumping magnificently, setting an Olympic record.
Rather than exulting in his position, Long took some time to advise Owens about his form.
Following this advice, Owens’ third jump was a success - and they both went through to the final.
After a tense competition, Owens actually beat Long in the final to take the gold medal, while Long came second.
Imagine the reactions of the Nazi Party if they had realised this was partly due to Long helping Owens…
Long was the first to congratulate Owens, and after the medal ceremony they walked arm-in-arm back to the dressing room.
Owens said afterwards:
So - none of these heroes won their competition.
But they won gold