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The Corporate Sector Could Learn a Lesson from the Olympics

08/14/2012 04:17 EDT | Updated 10/14/2012 05:12 EDT
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It was a race for the finish line in the 30th Olympic Games; a battle for gold, silver and bronze. Given the emphasis on winning, at first brush, the Games seemed to be about individual achievement. However, these games taught us they are much more.

For the past two weeks in London, ordinary citizens became national heroes and young athletes became new role models. Christine Sinclair became a Canadian household name. She and her team came to represent the best of Canadians. Once an ordinary (albeit talented) young woman, Christine now carries the hopes of a generation of young female athletes and the entire sport of women's soccer in Canada.

She is not alone. Nations around the world looked to their athletes and didn't see mere men and women, but heroes. Individual pursuits became the collective effort of a nation and one person's dream became the dream of an entire nation. The athletes themselves are quick to point out, what at first seems like individual achievements were only possible with the help of family, coaches, and a network of support.

It is a lesson the corporate world should learn from.

When you examine the recent bank and corporate scandals, you see where the reckless pursuit of individual achievement can lead. You see people in positions of leadership making decisions based on their own success, rather than the organizations. Moreover, you see a system that not only accepts, but in many cases rewards this behaviour. These are organizations who fail to link individual achievement to a greater purpose, a larger collective good.

As a result, we see these organizations stumble. Organizations that build corporate environments that reward the individual above the collective, generally fail spectacularly. Successful organizations over the long term understand that it's about creating a culture and environment that gives people a sense of pride not about themselves, but about the entire organization and the larger community they serve.

At GE, they use the phrase: "We all rise together." In other words, you don't rise if you rise alone. You only rise if we collectively rise as an organization and continue to make improvements in the world. For an employee, this means your success doesn't come from the failure of others. For managers, you aren't rewarded if your entire team doesn't succeed with you and CEO don't see bonuses if all of their employees don't strive to create something more.

This is what the Olympics represent and what the athletes, coaches, volunteers and spectators taught us. In the end, it isn't just about winning the gold, but about lifting people to believe in something greater than themselves, while creating brilliant leaders and role models in the process.