What motivates you? For many of us, it is the fear of being taken out by a competitor. Even the alpha male chant of "Destroying our enemies" implies that, in turn, our enemies can destroy us. It is both motivating and debilitating, as it reminds you that your strategic foothold is so weak that it can be lost at any moment.

For instance, in response to Elon Musk being afraid of vacations, one critic said he couldn't afford to take a break because the competition would destroy him. As if pausing to actually strategize were not worth the time!

Fear can be a great motivator, but it also comes from an emotional place that often can't differentiate between an actual threat and just a shadow on the wall. Here's why focusing on your opponent could hurt your business.

You are giving away your power: There are a group of Kenyan runners who purposely run at odd, varying speeds. The goofy foot rhythm screws up nearby competitors since fellow runners naturally try to keep up with them. The confusing patterns screw the competitors enough so that they can easily pass by them. In short, they set the pace.

Focusing on your adversary gives them a tremendous amount of power, as resources and decisions could possibly be wasted on benign actions. Sales are down this quarter? They are, but at least they are higher than company X. We need to acquire more customers? Let's go after company Y's userbase instead of expanding the market. It can become a cat-and-mouse game when you're actually playing in a zoo.

You are distracting yourself (and others): Keeping an eye on companies in the same space is always smart, but obsessing on the competition can have you focused more on beating them rather than serving your customer and maintaining your own business.

It's a matter of filtering general insecurities from fact-based strategies. As a leader, it's important to recognize the fear-based mentalities you are passing along to your employees. The pace of your whole organization is being built on what motivates you and on what you decide to focus on. Determine what kind of myopic culture you could be creating for years to come.

You are limiting your growth: Do you really want to set your five-year plan based on what a competitor is doing? They could suddenly go out of business, pivot to a different space or actually become an ally. You then have to revaluate your entire strategy and quickly reallocate resources.

Competition-based pacing may work in a finite, limited situation, like two startups initially going after the same space (think early Uber and Lyft), but most situations require long-term thought. It's the reason why running your own business is less like football, which has a fixed clock and one clear enemy, and more like poker, where focusing on just one opponent is a strategic mistake. What if you focus on bankrupting one opponent, but another, unexpected one wipes you out? What if your resources are too limited to go on the offensive, but you're too focused on your opponent to notice? Remember, if you actually do beat your enemy, you will have to keep playing--and there will be other enemies (time, money, etc.) that will be ready to take her place.

And the one thing you should fear: Complacency. From personal growth to environmental adaption, complacency is the true enemy of your business. Your customer will change, your business model will adjust and technology will morph your services. The entrepreneurs that thrive, and the successful companies they build, win because they are focused on continued excellence--the ultimate weapon against their competition.

How are your opponents distracting you from being a better entrepreneur?

Published on: Oct 26, 2015