Human beings naturally compare things. Our ability to make comparisons, in addition to our ability to make tools and fire, puts us at the top of the intellectual taxonomy. It is a neurologically wired part of our ability to make decisions. Creating comparisons allows us to choose the best path when moving forward in a process.
But comparing yourself to other CEOs is a waste of time and energy. Whether the founder of the company or a hired executive, a CEO is not paid to compare himself to others.
Karpman’s Drama Triangle
In 1968, psychologist Steven Karpman introduced the idea of the drama triangle. According to this model, individuals play various roles in life as a victim, a persecutor or a rescuer. At different times in life, a person may act as a victim, allowing the people around him to rescue or persecute him. At other times, that person is the one persecuting or rescuing. This is a dynamic way to look at dysfunctional relationships.
When people start making comparisons to other people, they create a de facto relationship. Much like a teen who is infatuated with a music idol, the relationship is only real on one end. Take Mark Zuckerberg as an example. At 27, he is the youngest CEO of a Fortune 1,000 company, notes the Wall Street Journal. Rich and socially conscious, he is the perfect target for comparison. Without a purposeful reason to compare, Karpman’s model shows the relationship is dysfunctional with Zuckerberg’s successes being interpreted as persecution.
CEO Tyler McGauley of Dealetin.com told Rescue A CEO to quit comparing yourself to others and instead make some magic yourself. Breaking the Karpman cycle is a test of willpower. There is no 12-step program. Simply quit.
Individual Versus Systemic Comparison
When a young CEO makes comparisons on an individual basis, it can be detrimental. But if he does it as part of a company-wide systemic manner, then it is called benchmarking. This is the process of comparing the organization as a whole to other companies, looking for the best practices throughout the industry. It is considered essential for a growing company, and is one of the primary functions of a CEO.
Benchmarking is a precise process that requires statements of purpose, financial comparisons and strength analysis. Benchmarking is extrinsic, where individual comparison is intrinsic. Part of the benchmarking process inclueds an analysis of the company leadership. There is a difference between making a personal comparison and examining the company’s leadership strength, however. Asking yourself whether your online business degree is as good as Zuckerberg’s degree has no actionable resolution. It yields a yes or no answer that does nothing for the organization, but it will affect your ego. Instead, an actionable plan creates a list of specific skills that are best practice throughout the industry, maps out how to shore up any deficits, and creates a roadmap to implement the plan.
Extrinsic And Intrinsic Goals
The difference between an examination of organizational management and self-deprecating comparison is the manner the data is collected and evaluated. In our Internet-based world, everything has a score. Google ranks every page on the Internet with some obscure algorithm. Advertisements go through focus groups. People choose restaurants by customer ratings. It makes sense to compare when the information is collected properly.
If you are a 20-something CEO comparing yourself to an industry leader in his 50s, your research model already has an age bias. The seasoned veteran will have a longer list of accomplishments, simply because he is older. Instead of looking at what the other guys are doing, figure out what you need to be doing. Create goals, both short-term and long-term. Your goals need to be specific and measurable. Some of them will be personal to you, and others will be specific to the company.
Creating measurable goals and objectives gives you a blueprint for the future. It takes this natural need for comparison and creates an external locus of motivation. By having extrinsic goals, you are less likely to become a victim of your own aspirations. Your objectives become targets to be hit. If you hit the target, then that is wonderful. If you miss it, then create a new objective.
The intrinsic part of goal-setting is looking at what you have learned in the process. As a young CEO, you can learn from everyone. Co-workers, those whom you supervise, and industry experts can all be a source of education. If the goal is the destination, then learning is the way to get there. Review your goals and objectives on a regular basis, and ask yourself what was learned. This is the part that becomes internalized. No one can take away learning. There will always be others who make more money or have bigger companies, but no one knows what you know. No one has learned what you have learned. These are your best assets.
What Can You Do?
Ancient philosopher Lao Tzu wrote when you don’t compare yourself to others, you’ll gain the respect of everyone. Stop comparing yourself and, instead, create a path to becoming the best CEO you can be. Respect starts from within. Stop being a victim of comparison, and become your best cheerleader.
When you are creating goals for your company, don’t forget to create personal goals for yourself. As CEO, you are closely tied to your company. If your personal life isn’t where you want it to be, it will affect your business and employees.
As long as we are quoting Chinese philosophers, remember the famous Confucius words of wisdom: “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Do you believe in what your company does? There is no need to compare yourself to other CEOs, as long as you are building a business based on your standards and no one else’s.
Be a strong, singular leader for your company by setting realistic goals and advancing your company at its own pace. While comparison may not make for a healthy business, experienced CEOs can serve as examples and role models. Listen to what they have to say, read their blogs, learn from their mistakes. Set your own standard and someday you’ll be the example to live by.
What advice would you give other young CEOs? Tell us in the comments.
Paul Reyes-Fournier has served as the chief financial officer for social service organizations, churches and schools. He created his own marketing firm, RF Media. Paul holds a B.S. in physics and an M.B.A.
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