Tag Archives: winning

Lance Armstrong and the American Way

Tis the season, time for summer fun, family vacations, the Tour de France, and the Olympics – and of course the always topical talk of doping in sports. Gotta love international sport. Where else can one combine lessons in geography, culture and biochemistry! It is interesting, or maybe ironic, but the only athletes to really suffer any professional sanction, criminal convictions or just plain condemnation are those who compete in international sport. Yes, there have been a few NFL and MLB players suspended, but nothing of any significance, and certainly not at the height of their careers. Marion Jones has went to jail, Ben Johnson surrendered his gold, countless cyclist and track athletes have been banned for years, if not life, and keeping with the spirit of the season, Lance is back in the news…again.

What I find ironic in the whole Lance story is that well, to use a phrase, he was just being the classic American.  No, not that every American cheats, far from it.  However, if there is something to the American Spirit, or American Way, it is to win…always.  If there is anything American’s do, it is to take things “to the next level”.  American’s push the boundaries, they strive to gain more, to overcome obstacles.  They leverage their optimism to go above and beyond the accepted norm.  They plan, they analyze, they grind, they take risks and they find a better way.

The country was founded on the idea of more is better.  The British had an interesting system of somewhat representative government and a capitalist economy.  The colonies took those ideas and ran with them.  If a little democracy and freedom was good – more is better – the Revolution was on!  The Japanese implement the Kaizen theories in business and manufacturing, America takes the ideas to the next level with Six Sigma, Lean, Just-In-Time and a host of other quality and efficiency programs.  America goes absolutely hog-wild when it comes to pushing limits; the old “taking it to the next level” thing.  It is just the American way – better, faster, more – win!

And so we comeback to sports and international competition.  Lance, for all that he might or might not have done, is a product of his environment – he is and was a reflection of the American Way – good or bad, he is what he is.  Cycling was a European sport.  Americans came to the game only recently, and when the first group of Americans broke into the sport, they did it as American Pioneers are want to do – they came in loud, rough and hard.  Those guys of Team 7-11 were a wild and tough bunch.  They won a little, and they intimidated a lot.  They were classic Yanks in a Euro show, and it did not go over well with the old guard.  Greg LeMond played by the Euro rules and won, but as a quasi Euro on a European team.  Now who knows exactly how it all went down, but doping in cycling, and sports in general, exploded in the late 80’s and early 90’s. In cycling specifically, was it because of the American threat to the “old guard” – no one will ever know, but the timing fits.  (Note:  There is an entire Cold War component to doping in sports, but why bother going down that path)

So there it is, Lance and the new American team see the field on which they are going to compete – drugs are there.  If they are going to win, which is the only way an American team knows how to complete, then they have to be smarter.  Did this mean they were also doping?  Who knows, but they certainly trained smarter, competed smarter, leveraged technology better and just flat-out raced smarter.  If they did dope, they certainly doped smarter.  Look at the test results – Lance nor any of his teammates were caught when everyone else on other teams were.  If nothing else, it is telling.

The American Way is an interesting thing…it is a winning attitude, it is a risk taking attitude.  It is a willingness to push boundaries, and a willingness to sacrifice to improve one’s situation.  It is certainly not a bad thing – look at the society it has created and the innovations it has spawned.  Yes, everyone can point to problems or short comings, but the overall track record of “The Grand Experiment” is amazing.  And Lance Armstrong is a product of that environment.  He attained amazing results and has done incredible things for himself and others.  Did he push the boundaries – absolutely.  Did he do some things that are at a minimum “on the edge” – almost certainly.  But then again, is not being on the edge just another piece of the American Way?

Not my place, nor frankly my concern, of who is “right or wrong” in this never-ending drama.  All I know is that I was entertained watching a guy race a bike. I still do find it entertaining to watch anyone race a bike frankly.  Lance made for great fun and conversation, plus lead to a story that has inspired a few folks, not to mention a foundation that has left the world a bit better than it was.  Plus yellow bracelets became a fashion trend – that is staggering when you think about it.  But above all, Lance has reminded me that there is something to the American Way – it can and does do so much good, but like all things, balance is key.

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Victories or Really Winning

It is ironic in a way, and yes I am unabashed fan of irony, that the NFL combine news was overshadowed by a story from BYU, all on the same day CBS and Sports Illustrated released a report on college athletes and criminal records.   You see, most of the NFL combine news centers around Cam Newton – the former Auburn quarterback with the rather colorful history.  The CBS/SI report is self-explanatory.  And then there is the BYU basketball player, Brandon Davies, a starter and major factor in the teams amazing success this season.  He was suspended by the team for a violation of the university honor code. Dare I say his actions were hardly the stuff anyone would be suspended for on any other campus.

Brigham Young University is a unique institution, tied directly the The Church of Jesus Christ of Ladder Day Saints and to the church’s values.  However, what is interesting is that every university purports to hold the ideal of the “student athlete” sacred, that winning is not above the values and standards of the university.  Colleges and universities all proclaim that athletics is tertiary, that academics and producing graduates who are good, productive citizens and future leaders are the real mission.

BYU has enjoyed a great basketball season thus far, and the loss of Brandon Davies clearly is a huge blow to the team and their chances for post season success.  We all get it – there is a ton of money tied up in college athletics – it is big business.  Billions.  Yet BYU took action, an action that will certainly have financial repercussions.  And all because the individual in question told them of his actions that caused the violation – in effect a confession.  No one would have known – yet he and the university held to their word.

It is not about the unique and specific Brigham Young University Honor Code and if one agrees or disagrees.  It is about the fact that there is a code, that those who willingly attend the university also commit to their code.  It is about a university that held to that code – regardless of cost.  We are surrounded by corporate “codes of conduct”, of “core values”, of “oaths of office” and a host of laws and standards of behavior.  However, we rarely if ever see anyone held to account.  Think about it – who from business, sports, or even political office are held to account – ever?

In the end, the question really becomes how committed are you to “walking the walk”? BYU demonstrated they are committed. It was one impressive statement.

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But Everybody Else Is Doing It

Ah, the ultimate in deflection and justification. The stuff of childhood and apparently an accepted part of adulthood in some circles.  Granted there is an ethical piece to going with that excuse, but to many it seems the question is more “will the excuse hold water”?  Will it buy the shadow of a doubt, the sympathy or the forgiveness one seeks?  Or better yet, does it justify the behavior in question, does it make the wrong decision a bit less wrong?  An ethical roll of the dice maybe?  Like any roll of the dice, the unknown is in the outcome.

I could not help but think of that wonderful excuse of childhood when I read the below quote from Floyd Landis:

“But there was no scenario in my mind where I was ever going to get the chance to race the Tour de France and win clean. There was no good scenario. It was either cheat or get cheated. And I’d rather not be the guy getting cheated.”

Granted the Floyd Landis journey has been “interesting”, but I have to admit, his quote in the recent Paul Kimmage interview is telling on a host of levels.  Truth be told, as much as I have never been a fan of the “everybody else is doing it” line of reasoning, I did feel for the guy when I reflected on the above.  On some very real level he has a point.  However, it is the life lesson in that quote that it would be wise of us all to remember.

How much of what is going on around us is really a case of “cheat or get cheated” thinking? Clearly Floyd Landis gave us the example of cycling, but might there be a bit of that in the “financial crisis”? Bankers, lenders, borrowers, brokers…maybe a touch of “but everybody else is doing it” floating around there in the roaring market just a few years back.  And take a moment Sunday when everyone is gathered around that classic American event, the Super Bowl. Might there be one or two guys on that field who have faced that debate of “cheat or get cheated” when it comes to steroids…maybe.

The challenge we all face, as leaders, as parents, and as people, is to ensure we are never creating situations of “cheat or get cheated”. It is not easy. It is sometimes not easy to recognize when we have created such an environment, and it is certainly not easy to acknowledge it when we have. Especially in those cases where everything seems to be moving along nicely. Let’s face it, when revenues are up, times are good, the kids are getting good grades, the money is flowing, who really wants to ask the hard “why”.

As much as any of us hate that classic excuse of a child, the Super Bowl will be one of the most watched events of the year. Are we sanctioning the behaviour and justification of “well everyone else is doing it” by our watching the game? Who knows, but to some degree I will be watching. Unless of course the weather is decent, in which case I will be out on the bike.

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A Holiday Thank You to ESPN

In the spirit of the season, I would like to share my sincere and heartfelt thanks to the program director at ESPN who decided to schedule the Heisman Trophy presentation, immediately followed by Pony Excess, the story of SMU football. Brilliant – absolutely brilliant.  Saturday evenings programming was by far one of the best backhanded commentaries on our sporting, if not our entire culture, that I have seen ever in a public forum.

Even the most casual observer knows of the cloud of suspicion that surrounds Cam Newton, his father, and some “pay for play” stories.  Thus far the young man has been cleared by the NCAA and is eligible to play, but it is a rather odd situation.  All of the above said, who would have ever foreseen this priceless gem coming from Cam Newton early in his acceptance speech:

My parents do a lot of things behind the scenes that go unnoticed.

Hilarious.  Was that supposed to be funny, a slight admission, a wink and a smile moment of “jokes on you – I got away with it”, or a subconscious slip?   I admit it, I throughly enjoyed the hilarity and absurdity of such a statement…looking at the others who were also in the room watching the TV, we all were busting out laughing and asking “did we really just hear that…really”.

Then, to roll quite literally from that speech into the latest installment of the ESPN 30 for 30 film series that just happened to be Pony Excess.  A film on the “pay for play” world of SMU football in the early 80’s.  Seriously, the irony was absolutely priceless.  The film is great – and it makes it abundantly clear that “pay for play” was not a new phenomenon 30 years ago, and was not isolated to just SMU.  It was also rather clear of how it all happened.  Winning, doing what it takes to win, and enjoying the spoils of victory (bragging rights, championships, revenue) in the moment were the drivers…ego and money trumped the moral and ethical right.  Based on Saturday evening programing, it seems not much has changed over the years in college football.

A huge thank you to the program director for ESPN.  Your wisdom and sense of timing, irony and humor are very much appreciated.  Maybe, just maybe, your showing us through the lens of film and sport that sometimes we need to take a step back, and remember that winning might not just be everything.  At least not winning at all costs.

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Of Ties and Draws

There are many positives to soccer, and specifically youth soccer; foremost of which is it gets kids moving. Quite literally every person on the field is moving – hopefully running. Though I love baseball, it is terribly sedentary. No one “plays themself into shape” in baseball. You can do it in track, soccer, cycling, basketball and football, but certainly not in baseball.

However, my struggle with soccer, and specifically youth soccer, is the idea that it is okay to tie. Though I might concede that it is okay for young kids to play for the sake of playing – that keeping score does not matter. But eventually everyone needs to learn the lessons of life.  One of the realities of the world is that winning and loosing matters.  It always has.  It always will.

Like everyone, I have been bombarded with World Cup updates, and I had to smile at the opening day results: a 1-1 tie followed by a nil-nil match.  Priceless.  Only soccer can produce world-wide passion yet not have anyone win.  To some that is the beauty of the sport – it is okay to just not lose.  That is great, and such folks make wonderful neighbors.  However, if I am building a team that will compete in the real world of business, I want competitors.  I want winners, or at least people who hate to lose.

You can work hard, practice, be ethical, noble, righteous and good, and yet there will be times you will lose – it is the nature of competition.  However, you better be ready to win every time you compete.  And that is why I cannot embrace a sport that ends in ties – it is fundamentally contrary to the very ideal of competition.  I am a competitor and I believe in what that means – someone wins and someone loses.  You play right, you play fair, you play hard, but you play to win…at least in the real world.

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Experiences and Achievements – Coach K’s comments

Duke’s Coach Krzyzewski was asked in an interview prior to Monday’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game if his past achievements and experiences would be an advantage for his team in the upcoming game with Butler. His answer was incredibly insightful. To paraphrase (Google cannot seem to find the transcript – amazing), he said that his past experiences coaching in championship games does have some relevance and might be helpful.  He then went on to say his past achievements are absolutely worthless in that setting.  One has to divorce the achievement from the experience.

So much value in such a statement. What we have experienced, and the lessons we have learned from those experiences are extremely valuable.   However, what we have achieved is in the past. It does not impact the future.  All too often the assumption is that what we have achieved in the past is of use going forward.  The achievement is not – the experience is.  How something was achieved, the actions taken, the lessons learned, the efficiencies gained, the insight won, the vision realized can be applied going forward.  It holds value to for us and those around us.

All too often we hear the line of reason that “I have achieved so much, it should be valued by the new company”or  “I have earned x and that is my minimum income requirement going forward”.  To stay with the sports analogy, Duke and Coach K could have very easily had the mindset that they have won 3 other championships and have been to 11 Final Fours – Butler has achieved nothing.  Understandable, and we all empathize, but in the end, that is an achievement paradigm.  “I earned it” or “it is owned to me” is past, not future tense.  The achievement is not valued today – it is past.  It is the experience that is valued going forward…if it will be leveraged.

Relating the experience of a particular achievement is the art of interviewing, and the art of leading.  Because you did something in the past, while nice to know about, is not the end all issue.  Life, business, academics, sports, everything is about moving forward.  Resting on past laurels will get you nowhere.  Leveraging the experience of past achievement is what leads to future success.

There is no questioning Mike Krzyzewski’s achievements – he wins.  However it is his mindset that allows him to keep winning.  He leverages the experience and leaves behind the achievement.  Simple in a way, yet a profound bit of wisdom.

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