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Stop It! – Behaviors You Must Stop to Become a Leader

Stop It! – Leadership Series Blog #4 – Pernicious Competition, Part 1.

By: Becky E. Zook RN, BSN, MS


Competition. A word that has both positive and negative connotations. The definition of competition is “the act or process of trying to win something that someone else also wants” (The Britannica Dictionary, 2023). Healthy competition focuses on the journey, the process, the task or game, whereas, unhealthy competition focuses only on winning, no matter what (Reddy, 2020). Pernicious is a defined as “something that causes harm in a way that is not easily noticed or identified” (The Britannica Dictionary, 2023).

Putting the words pernicious and competition together yield a combined meaning of competition that slowly, clandestinely destroys a game, a process, and even a team. This unhealthy form of rivalry divides people and puts them at odds with one another. Teams who cannot function collaboratively are destined to fail, no matter the task at hand.

In this blog we discuss the first two forms of pernicious competition, winning at all costs and knowing everything. In our next installment, we will delve into lack of cooperation and hoarding credit we don’t deserve.

This blog is personal for me and a slight departure from my normal style of writing. I have been guilty of pernicious competition and I lost a lot as a result. I hope this personal story helps you in your leadership journey as you find your way to being the best leader you can be.

It’s Not About Victory or Defeat; It’s About How You Played the Game.

In the 1910 poem by Henry Grantland Rice, “Game Called” , Rice wrote,

“Game Called.

Upon the field of life

the darkness gathers far and wide,

the dream is done, the score is spun

that stands forever in the guide.

Nor victory, nor yet defeat

is chalked against the players name.

But down the roll, the final scroll,

shows only how he played the game.”

It is from this poem we get the modern version, “It’s not about winning or losing; it’s about how you played the game.” Rice was referring to his favorite sport, baseball and how the fans perceived the players (Harper, 1999). When speaking of revered baseball legends it was not only about the wins and losses, it was also about the inherent talent and demeanor of the players. Fans fell in love with those they could identify; the commonality of life in hardship, loss, gain, struggle, and even victory bonding people together. The fans become part of the team.

The same is true of all types of teams; the triumphs and tribulations of working toward a common goal bonds people together. But, what happens when the leader of that team decides the team must always win, at any cost? Pernicious competition is the result; the slow somewhat hidden way of interacting with others to better yourself.

I worked for a leader just like this during my nursing career; a physician who is brilliant and also addicted to victory at any cost. I endured hundreds of hours of verbal abuse aimed at “pushing” the team and me to be our “best.” While our project outcomes were beyond reproach and earned us promotions and raises, the dynamic between our team and others in our company was less than collegial. I found myself behaving in ways I now loathe; interacting with others in our organization to better the outcomes of our team, and more specifically me, without regard for anyone else. Interestingly, when the physician leader left the company, our team fell apart and I was left with very bad behavioral habits that eventually lead to my demise in the organization.

After much self-reflection and coaching, I stopped practicing winning at all costs and understand the damage this does to individuals and teams. In my current leadership position I focus on the process of reaching the best outcome. For example, I encourage my team to experiment with different methods to reach the goals. Some of those experiments work out great and some do not. When a failed attempt occurs, our team motto is “even Edison failed hundreds of times before he successfully invented the light bulb; and that’s all anyone remembers.”

When a leader focuses on the creative process of solving problems, implementing solutions, and continuous improvement, there is no room for pernicious competition. There is room (a lot of room) for growth, creativity, and greatness. The trust you develop with your colleagues when it is safe to fail, is a deep, lasting trust you will treasure for your tenure in your organization.

“A wise man never knows all. A fool knows everything.” – African Proverb

Marshall Goldsmith, author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, says those who think they know it all are simply continuing to practice a form of pernicious competition. Heaven forbid a leader in an organization not know everything, right? Wrong. In fact, a leader who lacks the self-awareness to understand his or her lack of knowledge often lead teams down rabbit holes yielding poor results.

Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last, says leaders, especially founders of a company, fail at leadership for several reasons. Two of these reasons are taking on the responsibility for success or failure of the company without allowing the subject matter experts on the team use their individual skill sets, and not allowing failure at any level (Sinek, 2017). When a leader believes he or she already has all of the knowledge needed to make a team or company successful a culture of mediocrity is born. Do you know of a company, a sport team, or a world leader who built success on mediocrity? Neither do I.

However, a successful leader knows when to say, “I don’t know” or “let me ask my team of experts” or other similar phrases. The moment we believe we have arrived is the moment we begin to diminish. Dr. Joe Dispenza calls competitive, overly intellectual, self-involved thinking a “limiting state of mind”, one that prevents us from achieving our goals (Dispenza, 2012).

No one knows everything. This is a fact. Leaders who believe they know everything must Stop It before they run their team, their company, and their reputation into the ground.


Pernicious competition in its many forms, is disruptive at best and descructive at worst. While there are healthy forms of competition in the workplace, winning at all costs and being a know-it-all are certainly not healthy. I urge you to look at yourself as a leader. Have you ever found yourself behaving in these ways? I found myself acting just like these examples, and I paid dearly for it. The good news is you can Stop It and recover your career and your reputation; if I can do it, anyone can!

What do you think? Do you struggle with pernicious competition? Share your story to help others on their journey. Email us at [email protected] to join the discussion.

For a free Professional Development Consulting Services consultation about pernicious competition or other concerns, visit and send a note!

Disclaimer: This blog represents the views, thoughts, and opinions of the author and not those of any other person, organization, or entity.


Brandon, J. (n.d.). Simon Sinek on Why Founders Fail in Leadership. Inc.Com. Retrieved September 10, 2023, from,to%20let%20them%20keep%20trying.

 Cohen, P. (2008, February 14). Dumb and Dumber: Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge? The New York Times.

 Competition Definition & Meaning | Britannica Dictionary. (n.d.). The Britannica Dictionary. Retrieved September 10, 2023, from

 Dispenza, J. (2012). Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself. How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One. Hay House. ISBN 9781401938093

Game Called—Game Called Poem by Henry Grantland Rice. (n.d.). PoemHunter.Com. Retrieved September 10, 2023, from

 Harper, W. A. (1999). How You Played the Game: The Life of Grantland Rice (1st ed.). University of Missouri.

 Pernicious Definition & Meaning | Britannica Dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved September 10, 2023, from

 Reddy, A. (2020, May 28). The Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Competition.

 Sinek, S. (2017). Leaders Eat Last. Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. Portfolio Penguin.


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