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How to Influence Yourself for Success: The Ultimate Internal Competition

Top performers in any field say that the ultimate competition is not with others, but within ourselves



Image Credit: Midjourney

Conventional wisdom emphasizes that we compete with others. We compete with other companies in the marketplace whom we must beat in order to win and succeed. Top performers in any field, though, all say that the ultimate competition is not with others, but within ourselves.

How do we keep calm when our competitors play dirty? We have to master our own reactions to prevail. Further, how do we give a long-standing direct report some very tough feedback that they will feel hurt by, but if they don’t correct it could get them fired? The positive influence (+influence) warrior must master these moments of inner turmoil.   

In the journey to maximize +influence, we must win three competitions with ourselves:  

First is a competition between our persona (who we think we should be) and who we truly are — the imperfect but amazing being with all the basic human qualities, like courage, care, and compassion.  

Second is the competition between fear and love. Both are powerful emotions within us, vying for expression but ultimately stronger together.  

Third is between hope and giving up. Do we keep trying or give into that sense of tiredness from life’s inevitable trials and tribulations? 

Nobody sets out to be a fake person, but often we let our desire to either please or prevent discomfort for others prevent us from providing the reality check that’s necessary for positive movement. Tough performance feedback is a common example. 

We want to be caring, constructive managers and leaders. We worry whether we’re being too tough or whether we have enough evidence to support our intuition and messages. We hesitate to act on potentially serious issues, thinking that maybe allowing enough time might do it, or somebody else might step in, or the person might realize it himself or herself. 

This well-intended but oftentimes wishful thinking leads to a missed opportunity to help the person take stock of the reality of where they are and challenge and support them on how to change and grow.

How could we win the competition within ourselves to not give in to our worst instincts and to successfully access our better human qualities?

In doing so, these are the qualities we need to cultivate:  

1. Caring

There is a big difference between caring with a small c and Caring with a big C. With a small c, caring refers to having a concern for other people’s feelings in the moment, not wanting to hurt them, and not wanting them to experience negative emotions. This is human. 

We all abhor and avoid negative emotions. Caring with a big C considers the person’s productivity, satisfaction, and growth, now and for the foreseeable future — way beyond how they may feel in the moment and how they feel about you as the messenger. 

In moments of turmoil, ask yourself: What will really help this person be successful and satisfied in achieving the things that are important to them? What action, words, and thoughts from me could serve that noble purpose?

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” – Laozi

2. Courage

Courage also comes in small c and big C versions. Big C Courage is making the choice to do something that you fear, whereas small c courage is bearing the tough conversation and the negative emotions. Many +influence attempts aren’t made due to fear of losing a relationship, offending, or getting it wrong. Yet often, not acting is very costly as well. 

In moments of turmoil, ask yourself: What are the fears and concerns inhibiting me from thinking, feeling, and doing what’s needed to serve the other person’s (and overall) productivity, satisfaction, and growth? Are they rational or emotional? Rational fears are responsive to analysis and questioning. Ideally, confiding in another person can keep you honest. 

Emotional fears require you to reflect more deeply about what’s really important.     

3. Compassion

Some of the toughest moments for positive influence are when we’ve done ourselves wrong or others have done us wrong. Compassion plays a very central role in not getting lost in the intense emotions that try to take over. 

In these moments of turmoil, ask yourself: What could still be positive outcomes for others, myself, and the larger whole? 

Just when we want to judge, we want to lash out or just hide somewhere. Finding compassion (and humility) to acknowledge that it could very well be ourselves or anyone, really, who could have done these wrongs serves as an important reminder of the universality of human frailty, and also the opposite — the human strength to affect a different outcome. 

That sense of possibility that something can be different is the flickering light that can illuminate a whole dark cave. But first we must keep the candle in our heart burning brightly.  

Huijin Kong is Principal of LinHart Group, working with CEOs and future CEOs on their most difficult professional and personal issues. She was formerly with McKinsey, working with MNCs and local companies in the US, China, and India. Her new book with co-author Tsun-Yan Hsieh is Positive Influence: The First and Last Mile of Leadership (World Scientific Publishing Company, June 28, 2023). Learn more at, or find out what MBAs learn from it here.

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