Startup Leadership

Starting an enterprise? Derek Lidow’s book will give you practical insight into entrepreneurial leadership and venture strategy. Indeed, the distinction between “competition” and “competitive communication” has had a profound impact on our “Race to Net Zero Carbon” strategy.

chat Posted Oct 28, 2014 by Rezwan | Category : Coaches Performance Profile Philosophy
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The Paradox of Entrepreneurial Leadership

Lidow’s book invites you to reflect on the tension inherent in being an entrepreneurial leader (EL).

An entrepreneur’s goal is making his or her vision a reality—a basically selfish, though beneficial, act. A leader, on the other hand, focuses on others, forging individuals with differing wants, needs, and visions into a winning team. In Startup Leadership, entrepreneur and professor Derek Lidow outlines exactly how one can balance these two opposing natures and provides you with the skills and tools to become an Entrepreneurial Leader.

Basically selfish? What a thought. Many of us in the sustainability sector are inclined to see our vision as altruistic, not selfish. It’s the people out there who aren’t embracing our ideas who are selfish - right? 

If you’re like me, this reversal in perspective opens up a new way to appreciate your relationships to yourself and others. This is but one of many beneficial shifts in perspective found in this book.

Multiple Relationships

The book has a lot to say about the importance and diversity of relationships in chapter 4.  I urge those of us in the sustainability field especially to read it.

The more challenging and complex the tasks the EL wants accomplished, the more cooperative, competitive and retreating relationships must be formed.  There is a direct correlation.  Each task requires some balance of cooperative relationships focused on creation activities, competitive relationships focused on testing the quality of the solutions, all interspersed with retreating relationships that enable participants to restore their emotional and physical energy levels an well as personal commitment to the overall shared objective.”

Lidow’s practical approach to relationships explores the three types: cooperative, retreating and competitive. All three are important, and with any given person, you will regularly cycle through all three types of relationship.  The healthier the relationship, the easier to cycle through and pick the right way of relating for each moment. It’s dynamic.

The Value of Competition

Our “Race to Net Zero Carbon” seeks to deliberately leverage competition to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world.  Lidow’s guidance on competition is thus inspiring and validating. From the book (pp. 58-59 - emphasis added

Competition is also commonly misunderstood as something to be avoided, when in actuality it is required in order to achieve high quality results. Competition occurs when two or more people want to achieve the same objective but do not agree on how they will share the benefits and costs of achieving that objective. If two people decide to pursue an objective, in spite of not agreeing how to split the costs and the benefits, then each must expend additional energy and resources to force the other party to accept the split they want. That investment of energy and resources to determine an outcome constitutes a test of ability. “What” is being tested is determined by the two parties. It could be a test of who is stronger, but it will more likely be a test of who can convince some third person with power over all parties to choose between the competing proposed activities; for example…

For example, clean energy advocates competing over the best strategy to achieve a net zero carbon economy. 

Competition adds significant value if it provides a meaningful test, such as gaining an understanding of which strategy is better or which product is more appealing. The EL wants to create competitions in order to create high quality results and efficient operations. The challenge is to formulate competitions such that each competing person understands the benefit of achieving an overall better result by putting forward their best solutions to be judged in the harsh light of competition.

This is a challenge we’re excited about taking on in the Race to Net Zero Carbon. We invite you to cooperate with us in the continual creation and re-creation of the parameters of this competition, so that it can be the most effective competition possible.  We’re counting on you and stand ready to yield (retreat) to your great ideas!

There is a lot to consider in competition design as you can see from these quotes about the pros and cons. Pro:

Competition can deliver benefits beyond performing a test: it can make some people feel exhilarated and other people more creative than usual. Many amazing performances and ideas have been generated under the pressure of a test.


...some major talents have also been crushed under the pressure of competition. Fortunately, the EL has a great deal of power and influence over how competitions occur within his enterprise and can control when and how [competitions take place]


Beyond emotional strain, there are other costs associated with competing over shared objectives. Achieving objectives through a competition is the most expensive way to accomplish a task, because the resources, energy and time invested in the solutions ultimately judged as inferior are wasted. For all competitors who have had their solutions judged as inferior, the competition has destroyed value - not just the tangible value of the wasted resources, energy, and time, but also the intangible value lost in the degradation of their status.

Competition v. Competitive Communication

Competition is a valuable if set up properly, but competitive communication is destructive, always. (pp. 73-75)

There is an important distinction between a communication being competitive and the information and/or emotion being transmitted relating to a competition, It is not competitive to communicate, “I do not agree with what you said” or even “I will fight your proposal.” It is not competitive, communication-wise, for the receiver to demonstrate that she accurately received the information by saying, “I look forward to your fighting my proposal.” These examples accurately convey information important to both parties and are good examples of cooperative communication.

Tactics of competitive communication revolve around manipulation, intimidation, name calling, trolling and are described in the book on page 74. FYI, the book “Crucial Conversations” takes a harder line, labeling competitive communication as “violence”. 

Per Lidow, communication should always be cooperative, not competitive, and not retreating. In a relationship, “retreating” skills are essential. There will be times when you should step back and yield to someone else.  But a retreat is different from “retreating communication”.

Communication becomes retreating when the receiver of the information ignores the transmission. Not responding to an email asking you a question is a retreat. So is changing the subject.

This is also known as the silent treatment. The “silence” in contrast to “violence”. An EL seeks to break these poor communication habits and keep the team communicating clearly and cooperatively.

As such, a key function of the coaches and referees in the Race to Net Zero Carbon will be to flag competitive communication. It distorts the information signal, and leads to polarizing relationships. We want a clean competition, as clean as the energy we’ll ultimately end up with.  Let’s run this race with grace and class!

Because communication is the starting point for all relationships, being able to identify cooperative, competing, and retreating communication helps create more effective relationships everywhere within an enterprise.

Here’s to great relationships, ever improving communication skills and the rise of a spate of fabulous Entrepreneurial Leaders urging their respective teams on to sustainability success.


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