leadership, Startup Advice

Professional envy? Aussie entrepreneurs explain how to use jealousy for the good of your business

Emma Koehn /

Taryn Williams

Taryn Williams. Source: Supplied

Don’t lie: if you’re an entrepreneur with a focus on success, you’ve felt the stab of jealousy when a competitor or colleague announces announces a big win.

The idea of envy in business isn’t pretty or new, but even if you’re afraid to admit to that twinge when someone else is successful, it might pay to get control of it early on.

Research into management success has revealed business leaders who are able to affirm their own achievements, rather than solely focusing on the wins of others, might actually be better equipped to understand their competitors.

Writing in Harvard Business Review, researchers at Ohio State and Northwestern Universities found that business leaders who took the time to reflect and affirm their own achievements, instead of putting the sole focus on their competitor’s successes, were willing to give about 60% more time to trying to understand how their rivals’ business strategies worked. 

So as you wade into the competitive business landscape, how do you keep your emotions in check and stay focused on your own race?

We asked Aussie entrepreneurs what prompts their jealousy, how they deal with it, and how to best use it for to boost your own business. 

Use envy to review the status quo

Founder of WINK Models and theright.fit, Taryn Williams, says facing envy head on is about using it as fuel for action.

I have definitely been jealous in business before — when someone finds the perfect key hire in a role that you have been struggling to fill, or releases a new product feature you wish you had thought of, its hard not to be slightly envious,” she says.

However, the trade-off is that emotional response can drive you to look beyond the status quo in your business and sector. Noticing the success of another can also be a good moment to actually reach out to them and ask them specific questions about how they achieved that success.

Noticing these feelings of envy at others’ success can also be a positive because it means you’re “keeping abreast of what others are doing in the market”, and how you can drive your team to better itself, says Williams.

“Overlook the jealousy and use it as an opportunity to grow,” she says.

Get in an admiration mindset

Professional jealousy is a real thing, says co-founder of Annex Products, Rob Ward, but the costs of getting bogged down in it are significant.

Years ago I came to the realisation that envy/jealousy comes from comparing yourself to others, and that these emotions are mostly negative. I think this is because you can always find someone that’s doing it better or that’s more ‘successful’,” he says.

Given there are endless ways to compare yourself to others, it’s important to focus on admiration rather than envy.

“Admiration is a more positive vibe for me, and through admiration it’s easy to emulate parts of others success in my own way,” Ward says.

Founder of $42 million hair removal business Nad’s, Sue Ismiel, says the biggest risk when an entrepreneur feels professional envy is that they wallow in it, rather than learning from it.

“I believe jealousy limits your abilities and holds you back from what you originally had your heart set on achieving,” she says.

“I am lucky in that I can recognise jealousy for what it is and turn it into motivational fuel; learning, understanding, taking cues and asking questions so that I can absorb what I need to make my own.”

This process is particularly important when competitors within your industry develop new ideas. For Ismiel, who developed her own hair removal formulas and tools that have since been picked up in similar forms by competitors, she says it’s important to think about the progress of your sector as well as your own individual goals.

“I care about the health of the category as much as I care about my own brands,” she says. 

“The success of one competitor leads to the overall growth and success of the entire category.”

Sue Ismiel, Nad's founder

Founder of Nad’s Hair Removal, Sue Ismiel. Source: Supplied.

Co-founder of Smart50 alumnus Blisscare Health, Igor Statkevitch, says he “doesn’t believe” in professional jealousy, because the success of others gives you room to measure and improve your own success.

I do believe in professional and healthy respect to a competitor who either has done an amazing job in building a company, a culture or a came up with something new and innovative for the industry,” he says.

While it’s important that founders adopt this admiration mindset, Statkevitch says this is also an important value for the staff that you work with. Those prone to jealousy can “lose a sense of judgment”, which could in turn hurt the company’s values.

I will not work with anyone who is envious or jealous of someone else’s success,” he says.

Remember, generosity leads to success

Serial entrepreneur Jo Burston, whose ventures include Job Capital, Inspiring Rare Birds and startup.business, says in general she’s “the opposite of envious” of other successful entrepreneurs, even within her own industry.

Part of the reason for this is that she herself has been on the receiving end of acknowledgements for her success, but found that that “even though many entrepreneurs see this as the pinnacle of their careers and become envious of other that are achieving these acknowledgements”, such attention has never actually motivated her own success.

Jo Burston. Source: Supplied.

Instead of keeping detailed tabs on the success of others, Burston says she’s now focused on the results her businesses bring in the broader sense, rather than traditional recognition of “wins”.

“Impact is my success, making the world function better because of the passion I bring to create purpose and impact,” she says.

There are ups and downs in any business journey, says Burston, so with this in mind, an inclusive approach to success is important.

“Isn’t a win-win-win always a better outcome? There is a spirit of generosity required to be successful, in a sustainable way,” she says.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior journalist at SmartCompany.

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