6 ways to survive and thrive in an ultra competitive field, according to the president and CEO of Sotheby’s International Realty

Philip WhiteCourtesy of Philip White

Philip White is the president and CEO of Sotheby’s International Realty, a luxury real estate brokerage that surpassed $112 billion in global sales in 2018. 
With nearly 40 years of experience in the real estate industry, White knows a sure way to excel in any field: by embracing competition, and using it as motivation. 
He advises focusing on developing unique skills that will set you apart from the crowd, and always coming over prepared. 
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Long before it was discussed in boardroom PowerPoints, competition was what allowed the human species to thrive. For much of our existence, survival belonged to the fittest. Competition is what forces us to evolve and improve, and according to research by Jillene Grover Seiver, having a rival is the secret to peak performance.

In a study of professional archers, Seiver found that athletes scored significantly higher when their main competitors were present versus when the competitors were not. She found that it’s not necessarily the competition itself that makes us better, it’s being pitted against people who are on or above our level.

As someone who grew up playing golf and tennis competitively, I can attest to Seiver’s research. If I’m playing a match, the competition allows me to block out distractions and focus on the task at hand. I find it easier to get in the zone when there’s something riding on the outcome. I apply this same principle to my work: I do more homework than my competition, so I’m better prepared when I get in front of a prospective client or partner.

In business, people often view competition as something to be avoided — or at least a barrier to entry. But throughout my career, I’ve found that competition motivates me in a way that nothing else can. It keeps me sharp. It keeps me focused. And it makes for an exciting ride.

Here’s how you can survive (and thrive) in an ultra competitive field.

1. Find your own competitive advantage
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Whether your competitors are personal or professional, they likely have something that you covet. Instead of feeling like you don’t measure up because you lack that particular skill or talent, focus on finding your own competitive advantage.

Look at your competition’s weaknesses and see if any are your own strengths. For example, maybe someone you’re competing with for a promotion isn’t the best public speaker, but that’s where you excel. Find opportunities to capitalize on that. Instead of getting hung up on what others do better than you, focus on what you do better than them — and continue to refine those strengths.

2. Always arrive over prepared
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In many sports, the athletic feats are the most fun — running faster, scoring a goal, hitting a long drive — but ultimately, winning comes down to the details. It takes hard, consistent practice to see results in both sports and business. Let your competitors motivate you to consider every detail in preparation.

If I have a prospective client that I know is measuring us against competing companies, for instance, I start by preparing a presentation that outlines our unique value. If the client asks hard-hitting questions, I can answer confidently based on both personal and industry experience. And oftentimes, it seems that going through the steps of preparing tougher answers ensures you won’t need them.

3. Prioritize your integrity over a short-term win
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In any competitive arena, there will always be those who are willing to do whatever it takes to win. They bend the rules or take shortcuts. Basically, when there’s a lot of pressure or money at stake, people will show you who they are.

While giving the rules the runaround might earn people short-term benefits, most of the time it doesn’t lead to long-term success, in my experience. Developing a reputation for aboveboard business practices is critical to earning the respect of your peers and competitors. I’ve dealt with enough competition in life that I’m able to keep a level head and recognize that an immediate loss could lead to greater success down the line.

Be focused on solutions, but remember that it’s about more than the final outcome. Is a win without integrity really much of a win? Golf is a game of honor, and it’s taught me to approach business decisions with the same sincerity.

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