With the 2021 Summer Olympics concluded, here are 5 lessons the Games can teach (or remind) advancement leaders:
- The Outcome May Be A Story, But Not The Only Story– On Saturday, Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge won the men’s marathon in dominant fashion, making him the second oldest winner and only the third to win multiple gold medals in the marathon. He was smiling, fist bumping other runners, and cruising throughout the race as he blew away one of the fastest fields ever in a marathon, winning by more than 1 minute and 20 seconds. There is little question in the long-distance running world today that Kipchoge is the greatest marathoner of all time. But, his remarkable win in incredibly hot temps and high humidity is not the only story. It probably isn’t even the most important story. Behind this achievement is a story of simplicity, humbleness, and valuing others. Kipchoge today is a wealthy man. Further, he is revered, even by other elite runners. And yet he still rooms with other Kenyans during months-long training camps when he could easily stay in more luxurious accommodations. He still scrubs toilets and cuts vegetables as part of daily chores, just as his fellow runners do. He is quoted as having said, “Running is not so much about the legs. It’s about the heart and mind.” For Kipchoge, the simple, team-based life helps keep his mind clear and his heart humble. The lesson for advancement leaders: Be part of the team, not just the leader of the team. Display humility and a servant’s heart consistently. Give credit to others when good things happen and take responsibility when results don’t measure up.
- Genius Comes In Many Forms – I will admit, I don’t normally pay much attention to the sport of team artistic swimming. But the gold medal winners from Russia were mesmerizing. It’s not that I disparaged the sport in any way before, I just never paid much attention to it. I certainly didn’t appreciate the athleticism of the swimmers. But, as I watched the Russian gold medal performance, I found myself awe-struck by the combination of power, strength, stamina, grace, flexibility, and aerobic capacity of each individual swimmer. And watching these individual athletes come together to produce such a synchronized and harmonious performance was beyond impressive. The lesson for advancement leaders: Recognize that every team needs a variety of perspectives, skills, and interests. Diversity, in all ways, is good. Hire people who are different than you in important ways. Identify the skills, interests, and gifts of each person in your care and help them work towards those strengths. When a diversified team works toward their collective strengths, the whole team has an opportunity to produce the best possible results.
- Falling Short Of The Goal Is Not Failure – When the Norwegian 400m hurdler, Karsten Warholm, won gold, it was a bittersweet outcome for silver medalist, Rai Benjamin of the USA. Warholm ran a blistering race and shocked the running world by being the first human to run the race in under 46 seconds. However, Benjamin also ran exceptionally fast – posting a new American record time and, if not for Warholm, he would have posted a new world record. Benjamin fell short of his gold medal aspiration, but it was far from failure. Not only did he win the silver medal, he also came back 5 days later and anchored the final leg of the gold medal winning team from the USA in the 4×400 relay. The lesson for advancement leaders: Encourage the team to set ambitious goals and celebrate improvement in performance. Ask questions like, “what would it look like if we did better than we ever have before?” Even if the goal itself is not reached, the results will most likely be better than previous results.
- It Ain’t Over. . . Till It’s Over – If you did not catch this women’s 50kg wrestling match, China’s Sun Yanan defeated USA’s Sarah Hildebrandt with only 3 seconds left in the match. Down by a single point with time (and it may seem hope) running out, Sun Yanan threw Hildebrandt for 4 points. An incredible and dramatic ending to a match that had Hildebrandt in control throughout. What was on the line? Only a trip to the gold medal match. The lesson for advancement leaders: Keep your team motivated to finish each fiscal year strong. Yes, everyone is tired. Yes, everyone is ready for the year to be done. Yes, everyone is looking for a bit of a break. But put the plans in place to make calls, send emails, make visits and implement those plans with enthusiasm and persistence until the final moments of the year. Who knows what results you might achieve by continuing to work until the very end.
- People Are Much More Than What They Can Do – When USA’s Simone Biles – arguably the best women’s gymnast of all time – withdrew from the gymnastic competitions during the Olympics for mental health reasons, one could feel a collective sadness blanket the United States. Fans, even casual ones like me, were faced with a somewhat uncomfortable truth: the athletes we watch, applaud, and take pride in representing our countries are human beings first and foremost. They struggle, they doubt, they hurt, they can be mistreated. Simone’s departure was a stark reminder that elite athletes are much more than their performances. Their fundamental purpose on this earth is not to entertain or satisfy us, no matter how exceptional and inspiring their athleticism might be. The lesson for advancement leaders: Treat your donors as whole humans, not simply as bank accounts you turn to when additional gifts are needed. They are more than their financial resources. Engage them as people, show a deep interest in their stories, invite them to help you plan for the future, ask for their feedback, learn what motivates them and their generosity. The value of all people goes far deeper than what they can do.