David Hegg | From Competition to Collaboration

David Hegg
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. "Ethically Speaking" runs Saturdays in The Signal.

By David Hegg

As Americans, we thrive on competition. Our economy is built on it, our love for sport demands it, and our addiction to winning depends on it. We compete for business, resources, attention, and even the best parking space. Cut us, and we bleed competition, so it is no wonder that we’ve foolishly come to allow competition to get out of hand in so many ways, in so many arenas, with so many devastating results.  

I love to compete. In my younger years, I lived for athletic contests. Striving to win became a passion of mine. Yet, while I support competition as a foundational concept in our country, I believe that we are watching a new form of competition take hold all around us, withering our collective soul.  

I’m talking about a kind of competition that tries to win the contest and ruin and destroy the opponent. Of course, we see this up close and personal in the political arena. It isn’t enough to win the vote and occupy the office. We also have to vilify the other side as a pre-emptive strike against the possibility that they may succeed in future elections. This makes the business of politics essentially an ongoing set of actions designed not to make America better but to continue the victory celebration. In the current political environment, winning means gaining an advantage in upcoming contests. But it surely ought to mean more than that. 

In his book “The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player,” best-selling leadership guru John C. Maxwell describes three ways that people engage. First, there is competition. When we compete, we’re actually working against one another. There is active engagement to thwart our opponent’s efforts. In this kind of engagement, there is only one winner. When competition is the primary activity, we are in a win-lose situation.  

The next level of engagement is cooperation. This exists when two or more people are involved in a common pursuit and realize they both gain if they work together. Maxwell describes this as “working alongside one another agreeably.” Such cooperation is essential in so many areas of life, including marriage and family, the workplace, and even on the freeway. We can make it a “win-win” situation when we cooperate rather than compete. 

Most Americans would love to see cooperation become more widespread. We’d like to see our political leaders cooperate, our civic leaders dialogue more with community groups and businesses, and, just generally, more cooperation than competition in finding solutions to society’s challenges.  

However, as good as cooperation sounds, it is another way to define compromise. Cooperation doesn’t demand that I change my core beliefs; it only means finding a way to agree with my opponents. And while this may make for more courtesy and civil discourse, it only sometimes means the best solutions are found and implemented.  

Maxwell defines the best level of collaboration as “working with one another aggressively.” In competition, you or I win. In cooperation, you and I each win a little. But in collaboration, you win, and I win, and most importantly, the whole team or society wins.  

Collaboration is an aggressive and intentional action that puts the best interests of the many above my own and may involve sacrifice. It demands that the mission take priority over personal ambition and recognition. Collaboration says, “What is best for the people is best, regardless of how it may affect my standing or that of my party.”  

Collaboration prizes the idea that the person with the best idea wins. Collaboration is the best way for ideas to be brought to the surface and implemented well and quickly. But collaboration at its very core demands the twin virtues of humility and sacrifice. 

Winning is the foundation of competition, but we all appreciate those who have learned the value of remaining humble in victory.  

Collaboration demands humility. It does away with individual statistics and places value only on the final score. True collaborators enter the arena with the view that their ideas and solutions can be improved by the insights of others who share their desire for the best outcome. Further, they are ready to support the best idea regardless of who offers it or what it may take. This demands strong character, intentional humility, and a radical commitment to sacrifice anything that might keep the team from accomplishing its mission.  

Let’s demand that our leaders become humble and self-sacrificing collaborators. Let’s demand that we take that path ourselves. Let’s make it a competition and see if we can award the victory wreath to those demonstrating the most significant collaboration ability. Then, we’ll all win.  

Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays. 

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