Strengths and Interdependence: The Role of Competition and Collaboration

 In Interdependence & Collaboration, Our Contributors

This is the third article in a series on competition, and more specifically about the impact of competition. The question is whether I have been fair towards the strength of competition (hereafter denoted with capital letter “C”), when questioning whether it fits into the Strengths Strategy strategic interdependence approach (read more about it here). I’ll explain my reasoning in this article for doubting the fit of Competition in the approach, and then entertain counter arguments, followed by a conclusion.

In Competition Making Way for Collaboration (see full article here) I concluded that the time for an alternative to the competition paradigm has come, and that it’s perhaps overdue. I cited the amount of money spent on “beating the competition”, from sport, to business, to interpersonal rivalry at school, to entertainment, to the ultimate in competition – warfare.

In The Crippling Effect of Comparison (see full article here) I concluded that, when in competitive mode, one can never appreciate, acknowledge or experience yourself on your own merit. Neither can you do this with others or anything else on their own merit, for that matter. You can probably not fully experience the richness that life offers, and are constantly moving from one comparison to another. Life is one big competition, not to be enjoyed or lived, but to be judged all the time.

In Follow the Beat of Music to Interdependence (see full article here), I referred to competition with “The interdependence here… is such a powerful energy, despite the efforts of some “suits” and capitalist influences to turn music into a competition. These musicians knock the notion of “this is the best guitarist or pianist” out of the park by co-creating musical magic with “competing” artists and “non-competing” artists. That is interdependence.” The assumption here is that interdependence trumps competition.

The question here is what are we looking at? Is this the true nature of the strength called competition, or is it something else? Clarifying this is an answer to a big why for me, as this will either vindicate competition as a strength, and/or strengthen the strategic interdependence approach as the key to the complementary collaboration paradigm. My concern with competition might be more related to Competition in overuse, than with the strength itself. This warrants further exploration of this strength.

Victor Seet’s description of this strength suggests traces of interdependence. His view is that leaders with Competition create measures designed for each team member to perform and drive innovation. Their desire is to put team members in their strongest field, and build strong complementary collaboration. All these are done so that a team can breed a winning mentality. While that doesn’t mean every contest will be won, his view is that a winning mentality is often the difference between a high-performance team and an average team.

According to Seet, the genius of Competition lies in the ability to push oneself and others towards higher levels of performance. Team members who have Competition are the ones who constantly motivate others to become even better. They love the idea of measurement and constantly create worthy benchmarks for the rest of the team to strive towards excellence. Every win and every achievement is celebrated, and there is a culture to fight hard for each other to become the best.

They often ask “How can I make my team leader successful?” or “How can I make other team members successful?” When Competition is applied effectively, people with Competition often find that they themselves are spurred on by their team members’ performance and perform at a much higher level. Therefore, a collaborative approach empowers those with Competition to break through to higher levels of performances.

According to Brian Schubring “Competition is generative when it inspires self and others to do their best with a positive impact on others, through motivation or offering constructive forms of measurement”. He further explains that people with Competition capture others’ attention because of their drive to succeed and their achievements. This raises the level of other’s engagement, where everyone benefits.

One woman with competition remarked that for her, it wasn’t necessarily a drive to win, but the act of comparison helps her gain her bearings, then she knew where she stood, and then came the drive to excel beyond those standings.

The following emerges from this brief interrogation:

1.       Distinguish between the competition paradigm and the competition talent/strength. The competition paradigm seemingly stands opposed to the collaboration paradigm, pitting it against interdependence.

2.       The reference to never being able to appreciate, acknowledge or experience yourself on your own merit, when in competitive mode, is most likely an illustration of someone who has Competition in their blind spot. It is not necessarily a negative effect of competition or comparison.

In conclusion, the Competition strength needs to be compared within the context of the competition paradigm vs the collaboration (interdependence) paradigm. The competition paradigm seemingly brings out Competition in overuse, while, paradoxically, Competition can play a valuable role in bringing people to interdependence (collaboration).

If you want to find out more about Competition, and how it can be applied more effectively with the 33 other talent themes to get you to the life you need and deserve, you can download a complimentary chapter of Unlocking Strengths—the Key to Accelerating Performance, Energy, and Relationships here.

Tinus Van Der Merwe
Strengths Strategy Coach and Business Development Partner, People Acuity


Growing Talent to Strength: Featuring StrengthsFinder ‘Competition’, Victor SeetDecember 6, 2015,

How the StrengthsFinder theme of Competition can be Generative, Brian Schubring, March 13, 2014,

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