By Enrique Ruiz, CDE, CM, MBA, PgMP ~ www.AmericasDiversityLeader.com
Organizations want to hire the best of the best. Individuals that not only have talent but an inner drive to do more, achieve more. They are the leaders of tomorrow who have an enviable self-motivation that inspires the team and models excellence. If these individuals are given a firm foundation and the leeway to pursue greater feats… they will take it. They are not satisfied with the status quo, nor the routine. These individuals are the leaders we aspire to have in our organization whom we can entrust to lead us into new realms of possibility.
Inner drive cannot be purchased and tacked on like an accessory on our vehicles. Self-discipline is an intangible attribute that represents the best of the human spirit. But who acquires this inner drive, and why? Why would anyone endure countless hours of gruelling pain, sacrifice, training and learning to become the best? Yes, Olympic athletes compete along with many other top performers in the world arena to become the best but – first and foremost – they compete with themselves. Every race and every match is an opportunity to hone their skill and beat their own time.
Are these Olympic athletes the gifted ones among us or are they the ones who have the strongest motivation to be the best? Invariably, it is the latter. Many years ago I was influenced by a book called the “Heart of a Champion” by Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards who says “it’s the will to win no matter the odds.” I was amazed to learn that the athletes I admired were the skinny, scrawny, weak ones that were often a source of ridicule. Scott Hamilton who is an Olympic Gold medalist has overcome cancer and brain tumors; Jackie Joyner-Kersey, ranked as one of the greatest women athletes in the world competing in the heptathlon, came from “the other side of the tracks” in destitute poverty.
Many may think that it is money that drives these athletes to compete, or maybe it is the appeal of sponsorships and government assistance to keep them afloat but these perks are few and far between for most. A July 2012 CNN Money article entitled “Olympians Face Financial Hardship” notes that only 50% of American track and field athletes who are ranked in the top ten in the nation in their event earn more than $15,000 a year in income from the sport while most fare much worse. The US Olympic Committee’s $170 million annual budget, which covers ALL sports, can only afford to offer health insurance and stipends to a limited number of competitors. Yet many of our competitors get up at wee hours of the morning to train before the day begins and they juggle studies, part-time work, personal injuries and family matters to pursue their dreams.
These athletes will perform their best and represent their country in the best way they can. A marathon runner in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics named John Stephen Akhwari from Tanzania was injured in the race yet refused to quit. As he crossed the finish line limping and on bloody and bandaged legs, and the stadium lights were being turned off for the night, he answered a reporters quizzical question why he did not quit earlier knowing he was in last place…”My country did not send me to the Olympics to start the race… they sent me here to finish it” was his reply. In 1976 the Japanese athlete Shun Fujimoto helped his team win the Gold in Gymnastics when he lunged his body into the air for his final dismount on the rings knowing he would have to plant a vertical landing on a broken kneecap which he had sustained a few days earlier in the competition.
Watching the Olympics is inspiring.
The Olympics embody phenomenal human diversity with minds that are trained to visualize the future. Athletes can envision their every step, their every stroke, their every shot – in slow motion – watching their own success unfold. Will they be better today than they were yesterday? Will they be good enough to be proclaimed the best in the world on this day? This is the spirit our organizations need to foster. It is a competitive spirit that strives for greatness.
We witness generational diversity in its best form from the young gymnasts to our mature countrymen in such events as the bobsled or Olympic shooting competitions. Will Michael Phelps add to the 8 gold medals he earned in Beijing 4 years ago and become the world’s most decorated Olympian of all time? Our women and men come from all corners of the world and in all shapes, colors and sizes giving us vivid examples of what race, ethnicity, faith and culture can deliver. They come from different socio-economic backgrounds, they have different educational backgrounds and aspirations, they have their own trials and tribulations to carry and they have their own disabilities, visible and invisible, to work through. Our accents and heritage differ but our commitment to be the best, and perform our best, does not waiver. Olympic athletes represent inclusive diversity at its best. Let’s model their interactions, and their spirit, in our organizations today and see where we can go next.
Although an exact mile is not run in the Olympics, the seemingly impossible was achieved in 1954 by Roger Bannister when he broke the 4 minute mile in a record setting time of 3:59.4. This feat captured the world’s attention and is still a centerpiece for conversation, especially when multiple individuals since then have continued to break the record in their quest to do more, achieve more; the current record holder is Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco at 3:43.13 (a speed of roughly 15 miles per hour).
“Those who can see through the visible can achieve the impossible”
Listen to the sports commentators as they tell the personal stories of select athletes and observe how they have practiced articulating the names of each individual with precision conveying that unspoken element of respect for whom these individuals are at their core. Let’s cheer and root for the African-American, Latino, Asian, American-Indian, European, Middle-Easterner et al who have made America their home, are pursuing personal excellence and record-breaking feats… and more importantly, those who have volunteered to represent us all in the world arena carrying our flag. Thank you!
By Enrique Ruiz, CDE, CM, MBA, PgMP