By Linda Fisher Thornton
It’s time to stop telling leaders they will only succeed if they are “better than” the competition. It’s time for business schools to stop telling students that they are “better than” their peers in the class or “better than” students in other programs. It’s time for teachers and religious leaders to stop telling people they can be “better than” everyone else.
Why is the “better than” message so harmful? It focuses on status and power instead of relationships, trust and collaboration, which represent the real currency for success. It sends the message that we have to “beat out” others to succeed, leading people to use either-or-thinking, not higher level systems thinking which is needed for success in a systems world.
The old message “Look to your left, look to your right. One of those people won’t be here by the end of the year” advocates beating people down and throwing them away when they don’t perform, instead of lifting them up and helping them succeed.
Competent leaders and educators aren’t using or teaching this kind of “better than” language because it’s an unethical message. It leads to unwanted behaviors, undue interpersonal tension and unethical competition.
As we move toward an inclusive society that works for all, the message that anyone is “better than” others undermines our progress and perpetuates old paradigms that can be harmful. The only way we should be using “better than” is in terms of our behavior and performance, not in comparing ourselves to other people. Are we better than we were yesterday and the day before? That’s how we will reach the elusive win.
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