A few years ago I participated in a Sprint Triathlon (a shorter version of a triathlon which includes swimming, cycling, and running). During the event, I had an opportunity to notice two different approaches by two different racers. Both people were involved in the exact same race and yet, having two completely different experiences.
Leader 1: A fifteen-year-old kid, pulling his developmentally challenged brother in a life raft behind him for 400 meters in a swimming pool while the crowd cheered them both on. He then pulled him in a cart for the bike portion, and finished by pushing him across the finish line in a different cart to complete the the race. Throughout the entire race, the look on his brothers face was sheer and utter joy. Why? He was in a race, he was swimming, cycling, and running with his big brother … he was part of a team!
Leader 2: A 30-something year-old racer who continuously drafted behind me during the cycling portion of the race. Drafting (using the space created behind another cyclist to avoid the resistance of the wind to save energy) is considered cheating and the rules specifically state, that if caught, you will be disqualified. To hide his intention, he moved to the side when passing the referees and judges and then would tuck back behind me when we were in the clear.
I was struck by the enormous gap between the purpose and intention of these racers. The fifteen-year-old young man was racing for his brother, his goal: give his brother an experience he could never achieve on his own. He didn’t care about his time or where he finished in the rankings as much as he cared about his brother. It wasn’t about him, it was about his team. Yes his team, his brother may not have been physically capable, but imagine the inspiration he felt when he looked behind him and saw the smile on his face or heard him cheering his older brother on.
The racer behind me who was cheating the system to move higher in the rankings was a different story. His race was all about him and winning. It didn’t matter if he cheated and broke the rules, he didn’t care. He was the epitome of what it means to be self-centered. He wasn’t willing to exert the effort required to work hard in order to win, instead he let others do the work while he cheated the system and took credit for their effort and hard work.
As a leader, each day you have to face yourself in the mirror. And while we all want to believe that we are more like the fifteen-year-old leader and not like the leader who cheated, we have to live with the decisions we make.
Are you a leader who believes that you don’t have to go out in front of the pack and lead by example? Do you believe that you can lay low and ride on the coattails of the work that other create? Do you believe that it’s okay to take credit for the work of others?
Are you willing to give your best effort each and every day regardless of the results? Are you more concerned with getting the team across the finish line or yourself? Would you sacrifice winning as an individual if it meant that the team would do better?
As a leader, each day you are faced with multiple decisions to be other-centered and inspire others, or to be self-centered and make it all about you.
Extraordinary leaders inspire others to do or to be their best. And when they are inspired by you, they will trust you, and when they trust you, they will follow you.
As we all stared in amazement at the courage of this young man swimming his heart out as he pulled his brother behind him in the pool and throughout the rest of the race, I couldn’t help but think about how much he inspired me to be a better person.
After-all … that is what great leaders do?