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Karin’s Leadership Articles

In business school we teach SWOT analysis. Know what your competitors are doing so you can outsmart them.

There’s power in benchmarking, and many a company has met their demise by a sudden competitive surprise.

But any time your energy is focused on what OTHER people are doing instead of honing your craft, you’re at risk. Watching your competition puts you in the passenger seat of their story, instead of blazing your own trail.

When I was a competitive swimmer growing up, I had a terrible habit of looking for my competitors in the lanes beside me every time I turned my head to take a breath. Out of complete frustration, my coach threatened to move me to the lane next to the wall if I didn’t stop. From that lane, I wouldn’t be able to see any of my key competition, and it wasn’t exactly considered the rock star lane–I told you, I don’t have this humility thing licked. I stopped looking. You guessed it, that streamlined movement was just what I needed to move from second to first in many of my races.

I was reminded of this phenomena this week. Mike (not his real name), a consulting client, was going for an important promotion. He’d spent weeks honing his strategy and materials. He’d identified all the right stories to share, and had nailed the first interview. He’d gotten great feedback and was preparing for round two when he discovered another smart and popular guy had just put his hat in the ring. Confidence level went down five notches and panic set in. Naturally, he began rethinking his strategy.

When you’ve been preparing for weeks, the day before is not the time to rethink your plan, particularly from an unsettled frame of mind.

A few hours later I got this email:

“…I am going to take sage advice from the Disney movie my daughters watch, Ice Princess. “Put in ear plugs about your competitors. If they do well it will shake your confidence and if they do poorly it will make you cocky.”


Play your own game the best you can. Leave it all on the field. Stop worrying about everyone else.

How to Outsmart The Competition

This is part 6 of a 7 part series on outsmarting the competition. In case you’re just catching up.

1. Get there early

2. Be an explainer

3. Pay attention to your own game.

4. Help your team get smarter

5. Be easy to follow

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Steve Borek

    Too much time spent focused on the competition can cloud judgement. Especially if you’re thinking about the competitor in front of the client, hiring person, etc.

    What you think about you bring about. Clients can sense if you’re confident or not. Also be careful not to spend too much time talking about the comp otherwise the client will sense you don’t have confidence in your own offering.

    p.s. Ya, I can see you as a competitive swimmer. My intuition says you were a jockey back in the day. Any truth to that?

    • Karin Hurt

      Steve, Great insights. Also talking negatively about the competition is always a turn-off.

      I was a competitive swimmer and also synchronized swimmer, but I have terrible hand eye coordination. I can throw a great spiral, but you DO NOT want me on your softball team.

  2. Bruce Harpham

    Karin, you do well to point out the weaknesses in SWOT. I think it is helpful as a supporting tool in helping one reach a goal that has already been decided.

    I have in mind something like this:
    Step 1: Decide goal (e.g. “achieve $250,000 sales of training products in X area”).

    Step 2: Perform SWOT analysis to determine what can help or hinder pursuit of goal.

    Step 3: Use insights from SWOT to go for the goal.

    • Karin Hurt

      Bruce, LOVE IT.

  3. Terri Klass

    You make some amazing points Karin about putting too much emphasis on what our competition is doing. I have found that we need to play to our uniques gifts and not worry what other people may be doing. If we try to model ourselves after someone else, we will never be the original we are meant to be. In fact, constantly looking over our shoulders can deflate and diminish our big hairy goals. Let them be who they are and we need to be the best we can be.

    Thanks Karin!

  4. Alli Polin

    I hear you!

    When I first started my own business, a mentor asked me all about my biggest competition. I wanted to create a fresh space with a take that’s uniquely my own without worrying about being just as good as the competition. Who wants that? You need to know who may be your competition but obsessing over what they’re doing will never propel you forward towards success.


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