Updated: Jun 22
As a society, we LOVE an underdog story. These stories give us hope that we too, no matter how ordinary, can overcome the adversities we face to succeed beyond our wildest imagination.
But, what if I told you that setting someone up as an under dog can actually influence a more positive outcome than if you set them up as a winner? Sounds a little counter intuitive right?
Let's be crystal clear, I'm not promoting you go around like a giant a*hole and tell everyone they suck. BUT I can attest to the fact that when others have made me feel like the underdog for something I DEEPLY wanted, and someone said I couldn't have it, I did it. Let's recap some of the highlights:
When I was in high school, I had friends, teachers, and others who tried to make me dream smaller. When I said Johns Hopkins was my dream school, as a B to B+ student with average test scores (which weren't within the posted acceptance range), I was told I was not smart enough, did not have enough extra curriculars, and basically made to feel like this dream was completely out of reach... so naturally I got in and graduated 4 years later with a 3.0 GPA.
Speaking of good old Johnny Hopkins, my academic advisor changed my senior year of college. Upon graduation, she told me I wasted my time at Hopkins and wouldn't amount to anything, because I had chosen to specialize my International Studies degree in International Business, not policy or a specific region of the world. Once again, I have continuously had the last laugh. I At 31 years young, I am the president of a population healthcare company, making 6 figures, with an MBA from Kellogg (a school I was told I could NEVER get into). PS - I also got a massive scholar ship to Kellogg.
I was also told I was unathletic and basically shouldn't bother with competitive sports. So from ages 24-29 I competed in over 70 some races (5ks, Triathlons, Half Marathons, etc.) I've placed 2nd and 3rd in my age group on multiple occasions.
I was told by numerous men that I am "too much". That my expectations are impossible and even that I'm too "alpha". (The levels of cringe.) I'll get into my thoughts on that last one some other time, but flash forward to today: I have a handsome fiancé I can call a true partner, who loves and respects me deeply.
A VP of Operations I once worked for told me I would never need my overpriced fancy MBA and that I was wasting my time... resigning to him 7 months later and getting to share that as a direct result of my MBA I was going to be a VP of Operations at a job he'd only longingly dreamt of... well that remains the highlight of that horrible position.
I am beyond certain I can pull some other examples from the history books of my life, but I think you see the point. An underdog mentality can actually legitimately drive success and achievement.
Here are some quick reasons underdogs can flourish:
Less apt to take things for granted
Active imaginations, dreaming of the possibilities
Hyperactive observance, trying to assess and find their place
Not likely risk adverse
Always hungry for more
So underdogs can be a company's best friend but what if you don't have underdogs on your team? You certainly don't want to go around telling people they suck or cannot accomplish the goal just in case it helps drive them. What you CAN do is set big hairy audacious goals that makes them feel like an underdog.
Like everything, it's always about finding the right balance for your team.