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February 2005
Success Harmony Newsletter


Watching athletes at the top of their game is always exciting, inspiring, and fascinating. It also tends to be full of lessons related to success and failure. How do they respond to challenge and pressure? How do they deal with an unexpected turn of events? How can their lessons from the world of sports be turned into something all of us can use in the rest of our lives?

One such lesson still sticks with me from watching the 2004 Summer Olympics. Of course, there was the lesson of "practice as a team, don't just assume that having star individuals will be enough" from watching the US relay team run fast to nowhere as they couldn't figure out how to pass to one another. There were lessons of perseverance from a long-overdue Olympic win by the superb Moroccan long distance runner El Guerrouj who waited through multiple Olympic games to reach for his glory. But the one lesson that stuck with me the most was watching Kerri Walsh and Misty May, the US women's beach volleyball duo, right after their win. Both of these women quickly acknowledged their own happiness with how they played, but they immediately moved on to shower the other with praise. Although, by the accounts of many, Kerri Walsh was the star, she never behaved as anything other than one part of a strong team. She had nothing but words of recognition for Misty May. Vice versa, Misty May spent her on-camera time singing Kerri Walsh's praises.

In teamwork of any type, be it a marriage, a leader-follower relationship, or a team of coworkers, it is tempting to want to take credit and deflect the blame. About intimate relationships, we say that they are 50-50. Give and take. I give, you take. But what happens when I do nothing, waiting for you to do your half before I do mine, and you do nothing while you wait for me to do my half before you do yours? Nothing, other than there begins to be a lot of resentment. I complain about you, you complain about me, we're both busy being righteous and we begin to forget that there was a team that was supposed to be working together. What is the way out?

Step one is to take responsibility. Step two is to reward the other for the smallest try. When something goes wrong, I look at what I could do differently next time to get a different result. If the other person on my team is open to feedback about what they could do differently, we can talk about that, too - but only if and when I have shown my openness to taking responsibility myself.

When people on our team try, even if it is less than what we were hoping for, we need to reward. Jump up and down with joy, give a hug, give a chocolate bunny, quit nagging, promise a night at the movies. Whatever. Big or small, make sure your team member knows you appreciate their try, not just the final results they get. Funny enough, the more we appreciate and recognize others, the more others seem to want to do the same for us, too.

This ability to take responsibility for when things don't work and the ability to recognize others on the team seem to me to be a major determinant of success in life and business. At one point, I had the good fortune of interviewing a number of highly successful business women. Some of these women were in top executive positions in Fortune 500 companies. All of them were happily married and had children. There were a few patterns that these women had in common. One of the striking similarities among them was how they recognized the people in their lives, whether we spoke about their husbands, people reporting to them or people they reported to. I heard very little of, "well, if it hadn't been for this jerk, I would have been much further along." I heard much of, "wow, am I ever so lucky. This person did this for me, that other person had given me a hand when I needed it, and my husband challenges me but is my greatest supporter." With each and every interview, I wondered how much luck these women really had and how much of their "luck" was simply a product of their making it very easy and pleasant for people to want to show them the way up.

How are you in your own interactions with the people on your "team"? Your spouse, children, parents, coworkers, boss, the people who bag your groceries so that you can get home sooner? When results are less than you want them to be, do you take a look at what you can take away from the experience and do better next time, or do you immediately go to blame the other people on your team? When something goes well, do you say, "hey, ain't I great?" or do you share the limelight? I would only hope that the image of Kerri Walsh and Misty May sharing the Olympic gold so happily will encourage both me and you to remember to pass on less of the blame and more of the praise.

Happy praising, sunshine and smiles,


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© 2002 Pavla Michaela Polcarova, CPR Coaching Services, Vancouver, BC, Canada