Sport Leadership: A Story from Doug Keeley

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Doug Keeley, Business and Economy Speaker, Leadership Expert, Profile Image

Doug Keeley, founder of The Mark of a Leader, is one of our top-rated speakers and a phenomenal storyteller. Here he shares an example of integrity and honour in a world currently shaken by those determined to win at any cost…

Sport has always been one of the world’s favourite metaphors for achievement and leadership.

Why? Because sports stories are chock full of lessons about competition, commitment, struggle, learning, teamwork, triumph… they’ve got the whole spectrum of the human experience covered!So what’s not to love?

Well, the fact is, the past year has also contained several major sports stories that shake that theory a bit. They also raise the question: what really drives athletes at the world-class level? How far will they go, and how much will they give up, in pursuit of the big Win?

Lance Armstrong, CyclistLance Armstrong was simply the best at what he did. He lied, bullied, and cheated his way to being better. He was not better than the other riders though; he was better than the dope testing system! Bike racing was all about winning for him – at any cost. Even if it meant betraying every other value he had ever learned or, theoretically, taught his kids.

“The beautiful game” is also apparently not so beautiful. A huge Interpol investigation just uncovered conclusive proof that hundreds of world-class football matches including some of the top clubs in the world, have been fixed in the last few years. Billions of dollars have been made as a result in a sophisticated ring that stretches through Europe, Asia and the rest of the world. And that’s just the most recent scandal.

American baseball has a dubious history as well…and American football is now under the same scrutiny…And on and on…

But thankfully, for every example like these there are thousands of others which demonstrate the true, positive values at the heart of competitive sports.

On December 2, there was a cross-country race held in Burlada, near Pamplona, Spain. It wasn’t a critical race with careers or medals in the balance… just a regional competition, which had drawn a varied group of runners. As they came toward the finish line, a Kenyan runner named Abel Mutai had a clear and definitive lead. He had represented his country in the London 2012 Olympics in July, and had won the bronze medal in the 3,000 metre steeplechase.

Some distance behind him was a 24-yr old Basque runner named Iván Fernández Anaya – thought by many to be Spain’s next big hope in cross-country running.

As they entered the final straightaway, Mutai passed what he thought was the finish line, slowed to a walk and began waving to the crowd – thinking he had already won. As he did not speak Spanish, he could not understand when spectators waved and tried to tell him that he still had 10 meters to go.

Coming up behind him, Iván Fernández Anaya had a choice to make.

He could do what his coach would advise, and what the crowd was calling out to him to do… take advantage of Mutai’s mistake, and speed past him to win the race.

But he knew that Mutai had been the leader, by a wide margin. He deserved the win.

And so in that split second, Iván made his choice.Abel Mutai and Iván Fernández Anaya

“I did what I had to do” he said. “He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn’t have closed if he hadn’t made a mistake.”

First he shouted at Mutai, telling him to keep going. When the other runner did not understand, Iván gave him a push toward the finish line… and eventually got his point across. Mutai crossed the line as the winner, with Fernández Anaya coming in second.

The crowd, watching this little scenario unfold, exploded into applause… The only person who wasn’t impressed was his coach, Martin Fiz.

“The gesture has made him a better person, but not a better athlete,” said Fiz. “He has wasted an occasion. Winning always makes you more of an athlete. You have to go out to win.”

Shame on you Mr. Fiz. It is this attitude that drove Lance. It is this attitude that has created some of biggest bullies in C-suites in business. It is this attitude that is ruining sports as early as my son’s age, which is 11… Heaven help us all.

Iván Fernández Anaya, on the other hand, should be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and turned into the poster-boy in every locker room in the world.

Here’s to you Iván Fernández Anaya. You are a leader worthy of emulation.

(this story has been condensed from its original format)



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