EXCELLENCE AT WORK – CHASING THE UNICORN

There is no better metaphor for excellence than weight lifting. A 73Kg person from China has the world record for clean and jerk of 169 kg… more than twice their body weight. For Women, 71kg person, 152 kg. The difference is negligible. For the unlimited weight person, men, the record is 265 kg, for women it is, 187 kg. The difference is extreme. The weight of the athlete (category) and the physiological differences (male or female currently), provides an uneven playing field. Hence, the world weightlifting competitions are divided into two groups based on gender and then again into 10 categories, based on body weight. Obviously the sport would be boring if a 60Kg woman competed with a 100kg man, she could never win. But at work categories are not allocated by body weight. And gender differences make no difference at all. However, it is still a competition. And many people do not understand this. Work is not a pleasure pursuit in spite of the fact that pleasure is a key ingredient of winning. Over the years, people have tried to create competitive advantage at work through, what in weight lifting would be called, doping. People have used gender, education, boys and girls clubs, alcohol, the law, age, experience, tenure, vocal tone, confidence and endurance to gain advantage. All of which are synthetic. Age or experience has no relevance to excellence if the age hasn’t resulted in wisdom and the experience is simply one year of experience repeated 40 times. In sport, under extreme pressure, an athlete might revert to the psychology of doing their personal best. It’s a way of performing under stress that creates an economy of energy and effort. But this is not a competitive strategy.

Competitive strategy is not personal best, it’s beating a competitor. In fair play, you go head to head racing. You don’t have to win, you simply have to beat somebody. In marketing this is key. The best product doesn’t win, the better product wins. You are the CEO of your life. You are therefore the boss of the athlete called you at work. You have a brand, you want to win, you are competing not only against incumbent peers, but against potential imports from other companies. Your competition is fierce and your event is both a daily and a yearly result. Sometimes it’s confusing to you because you might not fully understand how the umpires and judges determine the winner, at least in weight lifting the rules are very clear. Lift, hold for X seconds, drop. A whole year can be spent preparing for that, and no one really cares, apart from drugs, how they prepare. In weight lifting – like work – there are minor leagues, small competitions, Paralympic categories and so many opportunities, and in work, there are small companies, self employment, big corporations and entrepreneurs. Horses for courses. You can win if you find the right competition, even if the world record competition isn’t your aim, there are other comp’s where you can win.

To win on the world stage of weight lifting is serious competition. It requires 100% focus and you would have to eat for it, sleep for it, design your day for it, have a relationship that supports you to do it, be paid enough to do it and make a career of it. To beat someone on the world stage of sport, you really need to eat, sleep and drink the game. The identical dedication is needed for work, unless, you decide the world is not your stage, but a local weight lifting club is, and you just compete for the joy of it. Then, you can play around with what you eat, sleep and do. It’s a hobby, a stress relief, a social event. Now we come to the pointy end of work. Most people at your office work for a hobby, it pays the bills, it is social, it has a degree of competition but it’s not make or break. Most people work as a hobby that they get paid for and if they compete, it’s only because the club, company, have rules that say if you don’t go in the competitions, and try, you can’t be in the club, but it’s not really too serious because those you compete against also joined the club for social purposes and get some feedback (paid). For example: if you a weight lifter on the world stage you can’t spend hours watching Netflix, drinking wine or playing with the baby.

You need a parter or network that supports your goals. But, for many, and some reading this, the family expectation of you, and your expectation of yourself as CEO of your life is that you do it all. You work, do well, compete, stay healthy, be a great parent, do house chores, while at the same time, you work in a job in a company that is on a global stage, and you’re in the Olympic weight lifting competing against people within your club and from all over the world to perform. This dynamic is the Unicorn Syndrome. False expectations on yourself and life and work and relationship and health. Being a world champ at work is a hot and exciting sport. It’s intense. Stressful sometimes. Requires focus. Is really demanding on your energy. And your home life, your team have to support that choice. Or, you choose a more moderate proposition of performance, lower your expectations, and be a domestique, to support your partner or children. T

his is such a weird conversation to have because when the kids grow independent (by 14 years) you’d be free to compete, but usually all the training needed to be good at that age for you was lost being a parent. How do you manage all this? Can you get your head around subcontracting some of the household duties, can your partner get their head around you working on your competitive sport and not being there for them? Can you even comprehend the need for home help, carers and creche services to free you to do your world competitive job? the answer, if you are between 25 and 45 right now, is probably not. It’s a real issue in the Unicorn Syndrome that, you can both compete on the world stage, and be “new age” equal at home without subcontracting what many of you are attached to, and that is being world’s best partner, parent, friend, cook, gardener, home keeper, laundry service, baby maker, life coach and care giver. Excellence is not exhaustion, unrealistic expectations and false economics at work. If you want to be super hero, it’s going to cost you excellence. At some point, somebody who is the master of their life, CEO of themselves, is going to have competitive advantage at work, by getting more done in less time by managing those who come to work as a paid hobby.

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