By nature, we all compete. Some more than others, for sure. Yet, what we all share is the challenge of working among dozens (if not hundreds) of other talented, ambitious people with similar skills.

We compete internally with our peers angling for limited leadership positions, externally with similar companies fighting to win the same clients, and within ourselves as we aim to do our best work. Standing out in the crowd is essential to our success. It's can also help increase your willpower, as Colin Robertson points out here.

What's different about increasing our competitiveness compared to other skill building activities is that it isn't another "to do" list item. Instead, sharpening your edge requires a more fundamental change in how you work.

  1. Shift to a "can do" mindset. Empowering yourself requires a deliberate change in how we've been trained to think. You can't ask for permission to make a difference in your work and life. Know that you have all the latitude you need right now. Today.
  2. Ask better questions. "When do you want this by?" might be important, but the only impression you're leaving is that you're a diligent project manager. Critical, of course--but not all you're going to need to lead. Instead, get used to asking tougher questions. How will this impact our current clients? How does this change our marketing strategy for new clients? Do we have the right resources or training? Do we have enough staff with the right skills? Have we evaluated other options? What are our competitors doing? It helps to research the answers to some of these in advance and be prepared to offer your own thoughts.
  3. Get creative in measuring results. Many of our business and program impacts are really tough to measure. Sure, sales are up or down is an important indicator, but there are a lot of others. Those with the inquisitiveness to dive into available data or to gather information to help measure something in different, insightful ways are hugely valuable.
  4. Make connections. Connecting people makes everyone feel good, and it's perceived to be generous--even though it typically costs more than a few minutes of drafting an e-mail introduction and setting two people you know on their merry way. To do this effectively, you have to actually understand what people you know do and potentially have to offer. I see this insight as the critical advantage highly networked people have over those with smaller or less diverse circles.
  5. Be more of yourself. It's often said and I'll say it again here. Bringing more of yourself to each task is probably the most important differentiator. This means knowing yourself, your viewpoints, strengths, and passions well-enough to let them shape and add color to your work.

Whether you're aiming for a promotion or trying to win the next big client, increasing your competitiveness requires a change in your mindset. That mindset shift empowers you to start working at the next level immediately as opposed to waiting for someone else to put the pieces in place for you. Making this shift triggers the behaviors, contributions, and ultimately the results that get noticed and make you stand out in the crowd.

For more on the choices we make to fit in or stand out, click here.