In 2004, a group of Yale students (24 of them) pulled off an elaborate prank at the annual Harvard-Yale football game. Dressed in crimson-and-white T-shirts touting their membership in the Harvard Pep Squad, the Yale students positioned themselves throughout the bleachers on Harvard’s side of the field. During the first half of the game, the imposters celebrated wildly whenever Harvard’s team had success and even led the Harvard crowd in cheers.

At halftime, the bogus spirit squad strategically distributed thousands of placards, some white and some crimson, to the Harvard crowd. They instructed fans to hold up the placards upon the pep squad’s signal in order to spell out the words to a Harvard cheer. The unsuspecting crowd dutifully obeyed, lifting the placards in unison as directed by the phony Harvard Pep Squad. However, rather than spelling out a pro-Harvard cheer, thousands of Harvard fans collectively formed the self-degrading phrase “WE SUCK.”


Rivalries certainly aren’t confined to sports; they pervade the business world and often arise between people within the same organization. Executive leaders grapple for control of organizational resources, middle managers compete for coveted promotions, and salespersons try to outdo one another to win bonuses. A workplace rife with rivalries develops a toxic culture of deception and manipulation as people attempt to promote themselves and undermine their opponents. To steer clear of debilitating rivalries at work, take the following courses of action:

1) Rely on Production Rather Than Politics

Producers seek influence by adding value to people whereas politicians seek power by manipulating people. Essentially, producers prioritize giving whereas politicians focus on getting.

Reflect on your two most important work relationships. In what ways are you adding value to each person?

2) Avoid Gossip

In a hypercompetitive business culture, people resort to verbal backstabbing and character assassination to belittle their opponents. Yet, gossip not only belittles the person being talked about, it also diminishes the person spreading the gossip and the one listening to it. As the saying goes, “Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about themselves, and small people talk about others.”

Who do your currently have an issue with at work? Schedule a private conversation with that person to discuss the problem.

3) Don’t Protect Your Turf

People who fight tooth-and-nail to protect their budget, to insist on their ideas, or to secure the corner office have a distorted view of leadership. Leaders cannot expand their influence by protecting their territory. Efforts to hoard power and prestige initiate rivalries and set off turf wars. Conversely, giving power away generates influence.

What position, resource, privilege, or power do you have the impulse to defend at work? What might you gain by letting go of your urge to protect it?

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