What follows is my fourth and final note on the Games of the XXX Olympiad. As I said last week, the comments below are to me much more than ideas or considerations; they are my takeaway; they have solid, redeeming content, lots of it–and thus they can be our homework in practicing and honing our leadership skills at work and at home. By the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in 2016, let us seek to use well trained skills with more team-success than ever before! Here are three more actions I’ll strive to integrate into my leadership-work, thanks to watching the Olympics very closely:
Celebrations are life’s bookmarks, so savor great achievements and save detailed appraisals for another time. Upon awarding Jim Thorpe his medals for winning the Pentathlon and Decathlon at the 1912 Olympics, King Gustav of Sweden said, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.” Fortunately no one tried to second-guess the King. Why would they? At that moment, Thorpe had just competed in 15 events, burying all his competition in the process.
Fast-forward to our era. Michael Phelps has just become the most decorated Olympian in history, winning merely 22 medals over 12 years, 18 of which are gold, 2 are silver and 2 are bronze. Despite this achievement, a newspaper headline asks, “Is Phelps The Greatest?” And the TV commentator interviewing Phelps immediately after his historic achievement asks, “Isn’t it true that you aren’t as dominating as you were in 2008?” Where is the reverence for what this man has achieved? Do the journalist and the commentator lack all imagination? Can they not fathom just how remarkable Michael’s feats are?
Putting aside the fact that I can’t swim across a kiddy pool, I have for years been transfixed by this kid’s performances. My friends, don’t fall into the societal trap that causes some of us to squander the opportunity to celebrate the majesty of our achievements before we ever set to second-guessing them, evaluating them, criticizing them—whether toward the end of improving any little quirks in them or, worse, toward the ends of exercising a temperamental habit of negativity or plain, unmitigated spleen. Or how about jealousy? Rather, when you or someone on your team does something significant, forget all irony and evaluation. Stop and celebrate the achievement for what it is, not for what it could have been or for its excellence when compared to some others’ accomplishments.
We all manifest our own reality. Some of us have been taught that our disposition and temperament is a pretty good indicator of how our lives will play out. I am not comfortable with that notion as it seems to imply that the genetic program imprinted in our character before birth controls what life has in store for each of us. That what we make of ourselves is a done deal from our inception. I prefer, instead, to believe that we each knowingly—with will and good judgment– manifest our own reality. And we do it all the time and in every event and aspect of our lives.
We also decide how our lives will trend. Lots of physiological lingo exists, I am sure, to explain all of this, but in global terms most of us trend to being either optimists or pessimists. Folks in my family typically live long lives. We have come to expect it and we are surprised when a family members dies young–like at seventy-five or eighty. It is known that people who have an optimistic view of their longevity clearly outlive those who do not. That’s not always the case–sometimes our bodies let us down. But make no mistake, individuals who hold foreboding predictions as to their mortality or most anything else are shockingly accurate. Put another way, pessimists are seldom wrong.
Surely one of the most incredible examples of an individual who has made and now manifests an unparalleled positive reality is Olympian Oscar Pistorius. The term “historic event” has been so beaten into the pavement of daily discourse that we can hardly discern the real thing from a pretender. However, when Pistorius, a double amputee, qualified for the 400-meter semifinals, we really were watching an historic event.
What was so telling as this drama unfolded is that Pistorius made it all seem so easy and natural, so plausible! I read that when Oscar was a child, his mother treated him as a perfectly normal child. When she sent him out to play with his brother, she told Oscar, “If your brother climbs a tree, you climb it too.” What better way to instill in a child the remarkable habit of manifesting a reality that could ultimately bring him onto the world stage? All the more amazing, the positive, loving attitude and advice of Oscar’s mother and surely others did not just cause him to see himself as being like everyone else, he came to see himself as superior in some ways. Last week in London, Pistorius declared that the term “handicapped” needs to be re-calibrated in our collective consciousness.
Great athletes hate the status quo. When I speak, I remind my audience that a sure-fire way to stifle life’s joys is to embrace the status quo. If life is a road we travel, where does it lead if we embrace the status quo? Nowhere. It leads right back to where we are standing! To avoid the status quo, we need to focus on the one and only once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
No, it’s not the world’s greatest rug cleaner some huckster on TV offers to sell you for $9.99—before promising to throw in a second bottle free! Nope, the only once-in-a- lifetime opportunity is this day. This day. There will never be another, no do-overs allowed. My friends, for the last two weeks we watched remarkable men and women who showed us their deep, unmistakable understanding that these games were their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to recognize dreams built up and refined over a lifetime. Their faces and demeanor showed us that they knew that, for them, there would be no do-overs! They then went forth on the road they must travel, setting safety, comfort, and ease aside to strive mightily to bring their mind-stuff, their dreams of competing and winning into reality for themselves and others watching them. How courageous and marvelous it was! A perfect, active focus on the present moment of the present day.
National pride–the great consolidator. Around the world political discord is natural to the democratic process. But it is an unwelcome, counterproductive infection of the soul of societies everywhere.
Discord happens in companies as well. While watching the Olympics, I realized that there may only be one cure for this malady. National Pride! When we watch one of our athletes compete for our country, all that destructive incivility that comes between friends and adversaries alike vanishes in an instant. The inability of individuals to reach common ground is set aside as all cheer the raising of their flag, and, in fact, discord sort of evaporates, is even forgotten. If we could only bottle national pride and sprinkle it in our halls of power–things could be a lot different for the 210 weeks before the next Olympic games! Just think of that common dream for Americans—striving together to solve the nation’s grittiest, most intractable problems!