Light The Fire Within

As I was watching the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City, I was inspired by the pageantry, symbolism and excitement.  Now, as my kids would say, “Mom, do you have to analyze everything?”   I would say…yes, I’m a psychologist and that’s what we do (for better or for worse!)  My interest was piqued in the meaning and background of this worldwide event.  I am also interested in how the participating athletes can remain dedicated and tenacious through years of training.  Can the “thrill of victory” sustain one through the “agony of defeat”?  And, if so, what is the optimal ratio of victories versus defeats for sustained motivation?  I’m sure my ratio would be much different than the ratio of these champions!  How do these athletes dig down and pull out every last ounce of effort to maximize their chances of winning?  How do they “light the fire within” (which is the motto of these games) and what is the lesson here for leaders who are trying to inspire their co-workers and employees? 


Phillipe Coubertin, the father of modern Olympics, stated “Olympism is a state of mind.”  The Olympic Charter describes Olympism as “a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind…Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of a good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”  Basic values espoused by Olympism include: 

It seems to me that if you could interpret and incorporate these principles into your organizations, you might see “fires” beginning to ignite within yourselves and your employees.  This will require that your performance goals be discrete, clear and measurable.  It also requires that individuals believe their actions and efforts have a direct impact on organizational success.  Once this is accomplished, body, will and mind can be focused on the search for excellence in your unique role.  When you achieve some measure of success, there is joy in your efforts.  As leaders, you set good examples by incorporating these values into your actions.


Those who follow the Green Bay Packers football team (and who doesn’t?) have heard the famous quote from Vince Lombardi, the former coach stating “winning isn’t everything…it’s the only thing.”  Well, the Olympic Creed takes a slightly different view.

                “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win
                but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not
                the triumph, but the struggle.  The essential thing is not to have
                conquered, but to have fought well.”

Again, what does this mean for your organization?  What does it mean to “win”?  In your industry?  In your organization?  In your own daily activities?  How do you define “having fought well” when you review your performance or the performance of others?  Do you communicate the value of a well-fought struggle to your people?  How does your team know if it has achieved a bronze, silver or gold?


A friend of Coubertin, Father Henri Didon, was a principal at a college near Paris.  In a speech to his students following an athletic competition, he quoted three words “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (faster, higher, stronger).  Struck by this phrase, Coubertin made it the International Olympic Committee’s motto.


 As leaders in your organization, how do you interpret these Olympic ideals?  How can you be “swifter” in your organization?  What are some higher goals you can define for your own performance?  What can you provide your people that will make them stronger performers?

                 “Competition taught me self-control.  It also taught me how to lose
                and how to win; although transposed into the world of sport, I
                believe it is an image of everyday life.  Everyone should know how to
                lose one day and win the next.  Always with the same smile on their face.”
                                                                                     Jean-Claude Killy, triple Olympic champion

As an effective leader, you need to learn how to pick yourself up after experiencing the “agony of defeat.”  Leaders are role models, providing good examples of tenacity and dedication to organizational goals, hopefully, most of the time sporting a smile on their face. 

So, as you reflect on the Olympic activities of the past two weeks, ask yourself if you are incorporating Olympism into your performance at work. 

                “When you are dealing with Olympism, you leave the
                common domain and move toward the extraordinary.”

                                                                                     Jean-Claude Killy, triple Olympic champion 

What are you doing to “light the fire within”? 

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