To be competitive is both drummed into us from birth and almost as immediately decried as being rather an unattractive character trait. The achievements of our contemporaries – from potty training to A-levels – are held up as an example, but if our desire to win is too overt or overzealous we are reprimanded. Cut forward 20 years to the cut-throat years of your career and you’ll find the same ambivalence. Out-performing the competition is one thing, being seen to do it in a pushy way is quite another.
One thing we have to face, even if it flies in the face of political correctness, is that, as top dog in the animal kingdom, we are naturally competitive – and that good outcomes can result from that competitiveness; as Ovid commented 2,000 years ago, ‘Like man, a horse never runs so fast as when he has other horses to catch up and outpace’. Competition can raise your game – the trick is not to alienate others while you’re climbing. You’re not trying to knock people out as you go up the tree but build new branches of your own. No matter what the field – be it the workplace or the PTA – identify a mentor above you, find a protégée in the ranks below you, create a team around you as if you are linking their hands together in order for them to hoist you up to the next level. To achieve this your armoury will require plentiful supplies of two weapons: charm and knowledge. If you know what’s what, who’s who and here’s how, then you’re on the way.

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