When You Compare, You Disappear

This is the title of a chapter in Marcus Buckingham’s most recent book Love + Work.   It’s such an important message, that it requires a whole chapter to itself.  Because, regrettably we have become experts in comparison – experts in comparing ourselves to others in our work places, our professional networks, our families and social circles.  

In 2022 I had the opportunity to take a six-month deep-dive into this topic with both Buckingham and Harvard Business Review’s Julie Devoll, along with a whole host of other great folks from around the world.  It was a profound learning experience and I was honoured to become an accredited Love + Work Leader in the process.

Career Traps

We learned how comparing ourselves to others is one of the biggest career traps we can fall into and if left unchecked, it’s a path that regrettably leads to much unhappiness and unrealised potential.  Unhappiness, because we’re exerting so much energy into trying to be somebody that we’re not, and unrealised potential because we’re probably doing this “imitation” act very badly or at best mediocrely.    

None of the above outcomes are healthy  – not for you as an individual and not for the organisations you work for and passionately wish to contribute to.   

But the biggest tragedy in adopting this “comparison” and “imitation” mindset – is that you end up disappearing in the process.   Your unique way of being, seeing, doing, relating, inspiring, creating, influencing, selling, leading….all disappears.  

This is too high a price to pay.  

As human beings, we have a very real deep-seated need to to express our unique talents. Otherwise, left unused, they will become caustic and create a whole new series of problems from burnout to boredom, to picking the wrong jobs and promotion opportunities.  

Three Alternative Strategies

So, how do we resist this trap of comparison?    I’m going to suggest three healthier strategies you can put to work for yourself:

Strategy 1: Take Your Unique Strengths Seriously

Trust me, they are there and they are unique to you – even if you currently cannot see them, let alone articulate them or optimise them to your advantage.  How you influence, sell, inspire, motivate, lead, present, build rapport etc, etc…will be very different, even from those who do a similar role to you.  

This difference, is your unique selling point.  Imagine if you were to take this uniqueness seriously (because most people don’t).  Imagine the difference it would make in terms of how you  – approach your work, present yourself to others and how you offer those strengths to your teams and organisation.  Knowing your strengths and being able to intelligently offer them to others is a game-changer.

You can discover your unique strengths in three ways which you can read about in my article Can We Talk About Strengths?  … Please   I invite you today to take your uniqueness seriously.  You owe it to yourself and your future potential. 

Strategy 2: Change Your Relationship With Role-Models 

Role-models are great and can be a tremendous source of inspiration for us to be and do more.  Problems occur however when we try to imitate our role-models and try to sell the same way that they sell, or lead and motivate our teams the same way that they lead and motivate their teams.  This is not a good pathway to success.   

Remember your difference is your strength, so instead of focusing on replicating their behaviours, shift your focus instead onto replicating their outcomes.  Ask yourself:

  • What outcomes in their life do you aspire to?
  • What is your way of achieving those same outcomes?

The objective here is to use your role-models as a source of inspiration that propels you to live a first-rate version of your own life, rather than a second-rate version of somebody else’s. So focus only on the outcomes of their effort and resist the temptation to copy their approach.  Their way, is not your way.  Instead, admire their contribution and then figure out your most instinctive and authentic way of achieving the same results.  

Strategy 3: Transform Your Strengths Into Intelligent Contribution     

Work demands the very best from us, especially if we have ambitions to advance into bigger leadership roles.  Once you identify your unique strengths, those activities that you can do better that anyone else on your team, find ways to do more of that.  Ask yourself:

  • How can you use your strengths to contribute more to the team?
  • Where can you use your strengths to collaborate more across the organisation?
  • What new initiatives does your team need to start doing and how can you volunteer your strengths to lead on these?

Contribution is a human need.  We all want to know that our work matters.  Finding those core activities within your role that allow you to contribute the best of you is the truest form of fulfilment, success and wellbeing there is.  Do it well and it truly is a win:win for everyone – for you, your team, your organisation and all the various stakeholders you serve.

Our Promotion Ready programme has been purposely designed to lead with a strengths-first approach to winning at work.  If you would like to learn about this programmes you can do so here.

Wishing you well,

Carolanne

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