- By Ian Bradley
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As a psychologist involved in helping professional athletes as well as senior executives, I have found numerous similarities in the challenges facing both groups. One such similarity is the dialectical tension of two opposing tendencies – individual achievement and team playing.
As students of philosophy appreciate, a dialectic represents a systematic reasoning process that attempts to resolve two opposing views. Psychology’s use of the term refers to the reasoning to achieve some acceptable equilibrium between two opposing drives.
The importance of this equilibrium is displayed in sports on a daily basis. In baseball, when the batter comes to the plate at the bottom on the 9th with the bases loaded and two outs, his strain to hit the ball out of the park is incompatible with the loose fluidity required do the job. The more tense the batter becomes, the less likely he is to get even a base hit. One has to want it, but not too much.
Similarly, in my practice as an executive coach, I have been called to rescue career flame-outs fueled by unbridled ambition and drive. The story usually begins well with a Young Turk entering the corporate world with a stellar academic background from a prestigious school. The work is attacked vigorously and invariably successfully. However, cracks in interpersonal relationships with colleagues soon began to form. Credit for successful performances is rarely shared, acknowledgements of the contributory efforts provided by colleagues or even secretaries go unmentioned. Performance in meetings is filled by sentences that begin with the word “I” and continue to action verbs that are heavily modified by adverbs of achievement.
A similar situation can easily occur in the locker room, where an individual’s attitude begins to over-shadow the team’s success. A telltale sign occurs when the athlete begins to believe the glowing press clippings of the record goal-scoring season or the highest game-winning saves.
In both the business and sporting world, promotions and stardom come more readily to those who can temper their individual ambition for the needs of the organization, the group or the team. Successful career management demands this. Mentoring others, rewarding others, and sharing success with others are all activities that yield later dividends.
Success in the organization and the playing field involves finding and executing a successful compromise of these two psychological drives of individual achievement and getting along.