Always Respect Your Competitors

Lesson number: 

Throughout my lifetime, I have watched upsets and surprises occur on many fields of play including sports, business, politics and all forms of competition. No one ever stays on top forever! Last night, I was reminded once again, rather dramatically of this phenomenon, as I watched the Wake Forest football team totally dominate Florida State on the field of play, winning the game 30-0. While this may sound like just another football score, it was anything but that! Let's take a closer look at this event and why everyone MUST respect their competitors.

Wake Forest has never been known for their prowess on the football field. This is a rather small university of 6700 students. Their football team has only had 11 winning season since 1953 and have only appeared in 3 post season bowl games, usually reserved for teams that win at least 6 games in a season. They went into last night's game against Florida State ranked number 18th; their first top 20 ranking ever. Even though they were playing a rather poor un-ranked 5-4 Florida State team, the odd-makers still expected Wake to lose by 8 to 12 points.

On the other hand, Florida State is coached by Bobby Bowden, who currently holds the record for the most Division 1A wins (364) in football history. Florida State has 40,400 students and a 31 year history of beating up on weaker teams like Wake Forrest during their regular seasons. The last time Wake Forest beat Florida State in Tallahassee was 1959 by a two point margin of 22-20. Florida State has beat Wake Forrest in Tallahassee by at least 36 points in each home game during Bowden's 31 seasons at the helm. To say the least, regardless of Wake's success this year, no one gave them any respect! And what a mistake that was last night.

Wake Forest came to Tallahassee to win. They were well coached, totally prepared and executed with precision. They created opportunities on defense and cashed in on them with points. The Florida State fans, the media and especially the team members were stunned. They shut out a Bobby Bowden coached Florida State team at home for the first time in history. I guarantee that Virginia Tech, the next team on Wake's schedule will not take them for granted.

This scenario plays out at businesses daily around the world. K-Mart and Sears had little respect for Sam Walton in the early days of Walmart. They didn't consider Sam Walton a threat when they were the giants in retailing. K-Mart and Sears merged recently and the combined company is doing 53 billion in sales annually. Walmart's annually sales are 329 Billion. As a combined company, K-Mart and Sears are smaller than they were twenty years ago. They both went through a great deal of turmoil, including bankruptcy at K-Mart, by not respecting Walmart as a viable competitor.

In business just as in sports, you can't take any competitor for granted. Businesses large and small tend to hate their competitors. They usually don't see their small competitor gaining ground on them until late in the game. Everyone needs to respect and study their competitors as well as they study their customers. The same holds true for politics. Just ask those politicians who ran against George W. Bush for office. Or look at the recent mid-term elections where the Democrats ousted many incumbents in the House of Representatives, the Senate, and in the capitals of many states for governorship's. No one can sit on their high horses forever. There's always someone just a little hungrier with more energy and a better plan, ready to execute better and unseat their opponents on all fields of play.

As a businessperson, I always studied my competitor's strengths and weaknesses. I wanted to know my competitor's strengths before my good clients found out. And then do everything possible to make sure we were stronger in the areas that really mattered to our clients. The same holds true if I want to play a tennis match. I want to know my competitors and direct my shots to their weak side. You don't have to be bigger or stronger to win in any contest. You do have to know who you are up against and prepare accordingly; then execute well to win.

Emmitt Smith is currently showing television viewers that hard work; dedicated practice; preparedness; and respect for your competition is just as important in a dance contest as it was on the football field. He recently advanced to the semi-finals on the live TV show "Dancing with the Stars." He did not have the skill or talent that other contestants had in the beginning of the contest. Yet each week he advanced in the competition, using the same work ethic he used to break so many football records at the University of Florida and then the NFL. He holds the coveted title as the leading rusher in the NFL with 18,355 yards. We can all learn from Emmitt. He doesn't take any detail for granted. He invests whatever time necessary to prepare, practice and be ready to compete with whatever opponent he's up against. He knows not to take any competitor for granted. That's a Hall Of Fame Mentality that works. Always Respect Your Competitors!