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Manage Your Envy

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  • | 10:55 a.m. June 11, 2010
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The distress that business executives feel when others in their enterprise are first to get what they want — recognition, responsibility, advancement, title, money — is universal. It significantly advances in times of economic downturn.

Envy, especially within the confines of a closely held professional services organization so prevalent on the Gulf Coast, damages relationships and undermines enterprise performance. Possibly even your own career!

The Harvard Business Review just announced the results of a 10-year study by Professor Tanya Menon of the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business and Professor Leigh Thompson of Northwestern's Kellogg School of Business. They conclude that envy is difficult to manage, in part, because it's difficult to admit that we harbor such a socially unacceptable emotion.

They found that it is possible to prevent yourself from being consumed by envy and even harness it to your advantage.

Rival envy
Imagine a Gulf Coast real estate firm with a younger sales representative in a typical sale staff meeting — month after month he is not called out to rise for “most closings for the month” and never winner of the “most listings for the month.” Certainly not “most booked sales” for the month.

For that matter, no recognition at all. In each case, someone else stands for the honors. We tend to dismiss the value of qualities we envy and cannot easily acquire. We make ourselves feel better by belittling the accomplishments of the person we resent. “He plays politics here and gets in-house leads.” Or, “he can afford to belong to the golf club and he gets those big deals on the course” or, “his parents are socialites and feed him some high level business.”

Some people become so fixated on a rival that they loose focus on their own performance. So why do we pull away from colleagues we envy? Perhaps because we experience this emotion more intensely with people whom we have a personal closeness or professional relationship.

You may find this damaging effect in your own Gulf Coast law firm, construction company, community bank, accounting, architect, insurance office, software, financial planning, media group, or other professional services enterprise. So how do we stop this downward spiral?

Pinpoint the envy
It's a rare person whose automatic impulse is to feel glad when meeting someone smarter, luckier, better connected, more dynamic or with significantly more wealth. The concept then is to help people replace their envy with more productive habits of mind. Could we be talking about you?

Pinpoint the trigger that actually makes you envious. What is it that makes you or your close associate insecure about what is lacking? For example, do you envy people who learn new skills more quickly, earn higher salaries, or always seem to be in the limelight?

Don't focus on other people! Instead, focus on your own strengths, your own accomplishments. What makes you unique? Might your own performance be increasing? Consider if your own sales are up in the most recent quarter. Are you developing more leads quarter to quarter, or writing more offers or cross-selling more services, or closing a larger percentage of leads?

Chances are you're really a winner in your own right. You simply have to pick your challenges. Then, affirm yourself.

The final word
Consider advancing your own education, if not through an advanced degree, then through professional certification in your field. Attend one of the many motivational seminars coming to town. Check your local colleges for educational affiliations you might enjoy.

Get interested in a not-for-profit organization where you can step into an active leadership role. Consider a service organization where you can develop skills with like-minded professionals, or a quality networking group for the legitimate exchange of commerce. And don't forget your local or state-wide professional trade association; they are always looking for future leaders and offer stepping stones to the top. You'll think of a host of additional opportunities for learning, personal development and business contact.

The important thing to remember here is that “signing up” without “standing up” is largely worthless. Immediately seek leadership roles. Devote the time. Devote the energy. That's the investment you'll want to make.

And what about asking your leadership specific penetrating questions relative to their own success? Chances are you'll find these very busy people overjoyed to sit down with you at a Route 41 coffee house to share a concept that works well for them and may also help you.

Even Thomas Edison celebrated the creativity needed to “apply, modify, and improve ideas” noting that he simply gave commercial value to the brilliant, but misdirected ideas of others and, “I was much more of a sponge than an inventor.”

Be like the sponge and soak up all the good selling concepts your successful Gulf Coast associates and others can offer. Learn success from the successful. While envy is natural and automatic, please know that it is controllable and you can absolutely refocus and make it your personal highway to your own success. And always remember: a mind stretched by an original new idea, will never return to its former proportion.

Lou Lasday creates action-oriented Strategic Marketing Initiatives for Gulf Coast companies. He has been a general partner of an Ad Age “Top 100” marketing communications firm and regional president of the American Marketing Association. Lasday can be reached at [email protected]


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