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What business can learn from athletics

September 23, 2010

I had the privilege to go to a luncheon yesterday put on by the Indiana Humanities Council. The topic was Sportsmanship, Competition and Civility in Athletics and the panel included Chairman Jim Leach, Bill Polian, Dr. Bernard Franklin, and Coach Beth K. Wilmeth.

The panel was asked a question by moderator Clark Kellogg about what one word each panelist would use to describe not only the civility in sports but business, politics, and life.

Chairman Leach went first with team. He used examples of Iowa football players who now play for the Colts and how their journeys weren’t always from point A to point B. His main focus was these players did what was asked of them to make the team better. What a concept for business. Instead of a group of individuals focused on their personal needs, get the team focused on collaborative and collective goals and move as a unit towards the end result.

Bill Polian was up next and picked respect. His examples were around the NFL’s decision to cut back on celebrations and taunting. He also eluded to the fact that after 60 minutes of physically beating on someone, the players leave with a tremendous amount of respect for their opponent, the game, and the product. One of my old bosses always used to stress that above all else you respect the position even if you struggle with the person. After working on numerous communications teams throughout my career this is so true. It takes every person in the agency, department, office, etc. to accomplish whatever goals are set in front of the team. When people start losing respect for each other, trust and the willingness to succeed are not far behind.

Coach Wilmeth was next with integrity. Her story was unique and very inspiring. Her volleyball team decided as a group to challenge themselves to be better, to impact people around them, and to leave a lasting impression. The team decided to call hand fouls at the net if the referees missed the call. In a society where winning is everything these women decided to do what was right, even if that meant it would cost them a win…and it did. Each day we go to work and hope that everyone is holding themselves accountable and responsible for their actions. Yet many times there are instances of pointing the finger, passing the blame or simply delegating work through to the next person. When did we get so far away from taking ownership and pride in our work, even if that means we sometimes have to admit mistakes? In most cases we can learn from them, move on, and become stronger.

And last but not least was Dr. Franklin. His word was character and how he felt it is a byproduct of your value system. I agree completely. I’m not sure why as a society we can spend so much time tearing someone down instead of building them back up. I also believe adversity shows someone’s true character. When the world around you is crumbling do you motivate or devastate, inspire or conspire, or lead instead of follow?

Most sports and businesses are a team concept. From top level management to the rookies, everyone has an active, responsible, and important part in achieving goals and upholding reputations.

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2 comments

  1. I completely agree – everyone plays an important role whether you be the smallest pebble or the tallest tree at the top of the mountain. Each piece holds it all together. TEAM 🙂


    • You got it! And some of the pebbles do more heavy lifting than the trees…



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