If you have ever read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you may remember the discussion of the abundance vs. the scarcity mindset. I haven't read it in a while so I am paraphrasing here. But the gist of it is, if you have a scarcity mindset, your view of the world tells you that opportunity is limited and that you need to compete with others in order to achieve success. If you have an abundance mindset, your view tells you that there are plenty of opportunities available to you, so it will not hurt you to help others along the way.
One of the sessions I attended at the Penn State Powerful Women Paving the Way Conference this weekend was a panel session called "Discovering your Leadership Style." In it, a woman in the audience discussed her fears that today's women are entering the workforce with a competitive attitude and are stepping on each other to achieve success. Her fear is that this creating an environment for women in business that is worse than the male-dominated environment it is replacing. Some women disagreed, but I was one who can see her point. I have been lucky enough to work in an environment where the women supported and helped each other, to the benefit of all. I have also worked in an environment where the women were cliquey and where I felt that I had to "watch my back."
I am not sure if this phenomenon is truly unique to women (think Mean Girls), or if we just notice it more or take it more personally because we don't expect women to be competitive with each other. Either way, I believe a competitive environment can create a toxic situation. Let me be clear though, I think "competitive" can carry both a positive and negative connotation. The positive meaning suggests that someone is capable and driven to succeed. I'm referring to the negative meaning, which suggests that someone views their coworkers as adversaries to be beaten in order to achieve personal success. I can tell you from my experience that it is not fun to work in such an environment, and it can hamper productivity.
Where does this scarcity mindset come from? Many people probably have a tendency to approach the world from one mindset or another to begin with. But I also believe that much of it comes from leadership. The team I worked on where the women supported each other? The leader of that team fostered an environment where the team's goals were all of our goals, and our individual accomplishments needed to support that goal. A failure of any one member would have meant failure for the team, and we were encouraged to help each other. The job where I felt the other women were competing with me? The leader of that group did not work to foster the team spirit. As cheesy as corporate team-building can sometimes feel, people notice when it is absent and make assumptions about leadership's priorities. Our goals were structured based on our leader's goals, and as a result people realized that individual accomplishments were what got you ahead. I assume many of these people felt that helping others achieve their goals would be to the detriment of their success.
So readers, I believe it is up to us, the future business leaders of the world, to make sure that we are fostering an abundance mindset at school and at work. Don't let Mean Girls happen to your team!