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What do you do when you work with a team of people and your performance outshines theirs?
A young adult close to me has been swimming competitively most of his life, and has coached others for the last fifteen years. He’s passionate about the sport, dedicated to learning how to help his “kids” swim their best, and strives for excellence. He wants his swimmers to have a champion mindset—and to see that being a champion includes good character and good deeds that help others. He guides them to practice teamwork, fair play, courage, and earnest striving to improve. However, his swimmers now out-perform older swimmers mentored by a long-time coach in the same club.
Outshining coworkers, and struggling to deal with their response, without reducing your own level of performance—that can all be very difficult. There are a number of spiritual principles that come into play both in our own behavior and also in how we work with others. It’s hard to maintain relationships when others feel a comparison is being made and they come out on the “losing” end.
The Baha’i teachings encourage every worker to “strive with his soul in the work.” – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 43. They say, “Work done in the spirit of service is the highest form of worship…” – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 78. When rearing children, parents are asked to “Bring them up to work and strive, and accustom them to hardship.” – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 129. In other words, the Baha’i teachings ask us to strive to be better human beings, do our best to work well, and to serve others.
But what if our best work triggers feelings of inadequacy and insecurity or even jealousy in others? What responsibility do we have to help them deal with this response, and what is their own personal spiritual development work to do? Baha’u’llah reminds us to:
Strive to be shining examples unto all mankind, and true reminders of the virtues of God amidst men. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 138.
Interacting with others who struggle with feeling “less than” reminds us to stay very humble and demonstrate a service-oriented attitude. Humility means understanding that there will always be people better than us at anything we do. Even when we see that we are outperforming others in some way, we can always learn from them. Having a humble posture of learning keeps us open to seeing everyone as a child of God with gifts to offer. We can help each person we meet build their self-respect and self-confidence.
Staying humble also makes it possible to share learning we have gained with others. It helps us avoid the pitfalls of being arrogant and boastful, attitudes that always become self-defeating. When others know we want to be of service for the greater good of all, it can soften their resistance to us.
It’s also wise to remember that a pivotal principle in all interactions with others is building unity. I see this in my friend’s coaching. His swimmers now know that part of being champions includes supporting each other’s efforts with enthusiasm and encouragement. They behave like true teammates.
That teamwork is vital among all the coaches as well. Each individual coach’s reputation links to the reputation and achievement of the whole club. Synergy and achievement link to interdependence. In the workplace, we can trip up when we don’t recognize that the greater good of the department and the company are more important than our individual achievements.
Managing situations like this well requires virtues like tact and honesty. It’s helpful to be able to say to a coworker, “I’m seeing this pattern happen, and I want us to work cooperatively so this has a good outcome for our organization and for us as individuals.” The Baha’i teachings have expert guidance for us, recommending communication that influences others in a positive direction:
Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation. As to its influence, this is conditional upon refinement which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure. As to its moderation, this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom….
Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible. … Therefore an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk, that the children of men may be nurtured and edified thereby and may attain the ultimate goal of human existence which is the station of true understanding and nobility. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 172-173.
Nobility is a vital part of these types of situations. If each person involved achieves an appreciation of their innate nobility as a human being who has the ability to work and serve, strive for excellence, and contribute to the betterment of others, then we start to walk a path of achieving true success.