Allies Not Competitors: Why Embracing the “Competition” Was a Game Changer For My Business
I wanted to be first. I wanted to be best. I wanted to be perfect. Growing up, my drive came from winning. Beating the person next to me – in the classroom, at the dance barre, on the volleyball court – was my validation. I wanted to be known for excellence, but not just good quality – perfection. I had to be the champion and anything else was unacceptable in my book. That meant taking everyone down in my path and, at times, that had a high price tag.
When I entered my professional career after college graduation, I excelled at my first job within the communications industry. I served a local county government as a public information officer and had 13 county departments that I served. But after only a short time there, my attitude was one of arrogance and entitlement. All of my departments loved me, others were requesting I served them too. I was consistently recognized for my performance and the 23-year-old Heather let it go to her head. When my direct supervisor left, I applied for her job. Our department head promptly hired an outsider with much more experience, wisdom and credentials than my arrogant self. How did I respond? I walked in and quit on the spot – no notice, no job lined up after my departure. I think back on that time and that girl and am embarrassed beyond measure. How on earth did I think that was acceptable or appropriate?
Years later, I was well into my career as a publicist for Thomas Nelson, which, at that time, was the world’s largest Christian publishing house. It’s where I cut my teeth working with major, national media, where I began to develop long-standing deep relationships across the industry and also where I had the privilege of serving some of the most prominent thought leaders and tastemakers of our time. It was really where I built my name and reputation in this industry. During my time there, I was included within a leadership development program. And, as a part of that program, as well as my work as John Maxwell’s book publicist, I took part in my very first 360 degree evaluation. I was provided anonymous feedback from up, across and down, essentially my supervisors, peers and those I managed. What I learned was that I was excellent at managing up – I executed well, made our leadership look good, performed at a high level and delivered results that benefitted the bottom line. Also, those team members that I managed loved me – I gave them credit for their accomplishments, set them up to be successful and served as an advocate and champion for them up the chain. But my peers…my peers didn’t care for me. Why? Because I always wanted to beat them – to win at all costs – so that everyone knew I was first, best and the one responsible for the win.
During my tenure at Thomas Nelson, I was led by Michael Hyatt, who I still cherish as a mentor and friend and who had a significant impact on my overall professional development and leadership. At one point, very early into my time there, he recommended a book called “Love is the Killer App” by Tim Sanders. The book encourages a “lovecat” mentality which essentially says you should share with and embrace those people you might normally consider competition. A novel concept to this girl who prided myself on having competition as my number one strength on StrengthsFinder (if you’re going to have it, it better be number one). When someone said, “There’s no I in TEAM,” I would quickly respond with, “Yes, but there is in WIN!” But after reading that book and then later receiving the results on the 360 evaluation, I realized something had to change. I had to start being an ally instead of a competitor.
Years later, in 2010, well into the recession, I was laid off at Thomas Nelson. Shortly afterward, a cherished colleague in the industry, Kelly Hughes, was in Nashville and treated me to dinner. “How can I help you?,” she inquired. Kelly had the “lovecat” mentality. She wanted to do everything she could to help me start out well on my own, separate from Thomas Nelson. “There’s enough business for everyone,” she said. That has never left me. Not only was I about to hang my shingle out and be in direct competition with Kelly for potential projects, but she was telling me that she wanted to help me be successful. And, she encouraged me not to have a scarcity mentality as I took my next steps. Another friend, Sandy Schulz, who also owns a PR agency, called me and walked through some of her best lessons learned of being a small business owner in our industry – what to charge, how to determine which clients were right, and so on. These two colleagues and friends were welcoming as I determined to open my own shop.
They linked arms, shared best practices and were
encouraging and kind. I remember it to this day.
Now, some nine years into owning my own business and five years into leading an all-female team at Choice, I understand the value of being an ally, especially with women. I find that having this mindset isn’t just beneficial in the office. When I link arms with other mothers at school, I receive the same result – a deeper relationship that’s mutually beneficial. There have been times when I’ve been trying to navigate a hard parenting season. Every single time I’ve shared that honestly with a mom from school, she’s stepped forward and said, “gosh, me too.” Why are we all so afraid? Why can’t we let the judgement subside and not feel threatened? Her success doesn’t equal my demise.
At Choice we have a mindset and a culture that “a win for one is a win for all.” We are champions for each other and every single week are celebrating each other’s accomplishments. It’s rare and something that I have deliberately attempted to model because I know all too well what it feels like to be afraid of your colleagues successes. Recently I was asked about that in an interview on the Mama Bear Dares podcast and I chronicled my early years as that fierce competitor taking everyone down in my wake. Hosts Leslie and Tesi said how powerful they thought it was to admit that your current hallmark was previously something you failed at miserably. With that in mind, we created The Choice Summit. It is my greatest wish for our industry that we gather as allies – to collaborate instead of compete, to make each other better instead of taking each other down. The Choice Summit is a gathering of like-minded communications professionals who desire the opportunity to share, support, encourage, teach and collaborate with each other. We are bringing together a collection of experts and business leaders across a variety of categories including content creation, hiring and retaining talent, branding, media, influencers, executive coaching and business development. These thought-leaders will lead and train within their respective competencies. Our intention is for each attendee to bring a collaborative and teachable spirit. In addition to these savvy experts, we also hope to learn from each other during breakout and panel discussions where we will share our biggest challenges, lessons learned and recent wins. Our theme for the Summit is Allies Not Competitors. We would love to have you join us in Franklin, Tennessee on Friday, September 27. Register HERE
And share with us below a way that you are stepping toward your competition – in the boardroom, at the PTA meeting, during class. Collaboration is the new competition.