Two Dozen Basic Management Principles — Pt. 17

Chapter 15

President Bush

 

“Where’s Lopez? I want to meet Lopez.”

Lopez heard his name but could not believe the speaker was looking for him. For eight years he had dreamed of running for the United States in the Olympic Games, but this went beyond anything he could ever have imagined. The President of the United States was now looking for him.

“Over here, sir,” one of the coaches said.

President Bush smiled and headed over toward Lopez. He had just delivered a speech to the entire U.S. delegation. The entire delegation consists of every athlete and coach for every sport in the Olympic games. In his speech, the President tapped into his old cheerleader self: “Get out there and kick some butt!”

After his speech, he went around the room shaking hands. So many famous athletes Lopez admired were there: Duke’s “Coach K,” Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwayne Wade of the Dream Team. Michael Phelps, who went on to win eight gold medals was also there.

Yet out of all these incredible and famous athletes, the president wanted to see Lopez! A nobody, a lost boy! For eight years he had dreamed of running in the Olympics but never dreamed this.

“Mr. President, I would like to introduce you to our flag bearer, Lopez Lomong,” the head of the U.S. Olympic Team said. The flag bearer leads the team into the stadium. It is one of the highest honors any Olympic athlete can receive. Unlike medals that are won in competition, the flag bearer is elected by his teammates. Out of the 596 athletes representing the United States in these games, only one can lead the team into the stadium carrying the flag, and the one that the athletes chose was Lopez. The vote was not even close.

President Bush shook his hand. “Lopez, I’ve heard a lot about you. I just wanted to let you know how excited and happy I am to have you here. Welcome to America. When you go out there and carry that flag tonight, enjoy the moment. It is your flag.”

“Thank you, sir,” Lopez said. He could not believe he was shaking hands with the president. His mind raced back to watching him in New York the day after the 9-11 attacks. He had inspired Lopez as he stood atop a pile of rubble with the rescue workers, a bullhorn in his hand.

A half-hour later, an U.S. Olympic Committee official came over and took Lopez by the arm. “Come with me,” he said. Lopez assumed he needed to go somewhere for instructions on how he was to carry the flag properly. Instead, he was taken into a room off to one side. And there in the room, was the President.

“Lopez,” he said when he saw me, “there’s something I forgot to tell you.”

“Yes, sir,” Lopez said.

“Lopez, son, when you go out there tonight carrying our flag, don’t let it touch the ground, buddy.”

 

Chapter 16

The Flag Bearer

 

Lopez selection as the flag bearer was seen as by reporters as possibly being a political statement. Around the time of the Olympic trials, Lopez had joined a group of athletes call Team Darfur. Team Darfur spoke out against the genocide occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan. There, the Sudanese government in Khartoum committed the same kind of atrocities they committed against Christians in Lopez’ home region of South Sudan during the civil war that lasted twenty years. This time, Arab Sudanese began exterminating African Sudanese even though they shared the same religion. The government of Sudan supported and aided this genocide.

Lopez had spoke out against this genocide right after he qualified for the Olympic team. Since the Chinese government financially supported the Sudanese government (in spite of these atrocities), a reporter asked Lopez if his election had political implications. Lopez dodged the question. “I’m so proud to be an American and raise that flag proudly.”

At the morning of his new conference, the flag bearer speaks to the press. Lopez was prepared for the inevitable questions about his selection. As important as genocide was, Lopez knew what he had to do. He sat down and proceeded to tell his story. He talked about the day he was taken from his church and of being held in the rebel prison camp. He told the story of his escape through the wilderness with his three angels and of his years in Kakuma. He shared the story of watching Michael Johnson run in the 2000 Olympics and the dream that Michael birthed in him. Then he explained how America opened its arms to him and gave him this great opportunity. “I am so thankful for this privilege of getting to put on this jersey and represent my country,” he said.

Once the press was finished with him, he walked out in the hallway. The president of the USOC walked over and said: “Good job, Lopez. You were great in there.”

“Thank you. I spoke from the heart,” Lopez said.

“Lopez, I need you to do one more thing before you go. Coach K would like for you to say a few words to the basketball team.”

Lopez’ jaw hit the floor. “The Dream Team?”

The president of the USOC laughed. “Yes, the Dream Team. Follow Susan here and she’ll take you to them.”

 

Management Lesson #20 – Humility

Humility is not taught in management courses or in many leadership courses, for that matter. Organizations want their leaders to be visionary, authoritative, confident, capable, and motivational. Yet, humility is the primary requirement for leadership. Or stated in a different manner, humility is the foundation of leadership. Why is humility essential to leadership, it is because humility:

  • Acknowledges our sinfulness,

The Psalmist writes: “Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins; then I shall be blameless, and I shall be acquitted of great transgression” (Psalm 19:12-13).

This acknowledgement of man’s sinfulness has been a foundational principle of all successful governments. For example, this acknowledgement led our founding fathers to build into the very fabric of our governmental structure, a separation of powers. Each branch of government – executive, legislative, and judicial – is bridled by a series of checks and balances. Why? As Lord Achton expressed in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

  • Comprehends our creatureliness, and

The second reason that we need humility in leadership is because it comprehends our creatureliness. The word “humility” itself comes from the Latin word humus, which means “dirt” or “earth.” Behind the concept of humility is the realization that life inevitably ends with a return to the earth, “from dust to dust,” as the expression goes. Since this inglorious end awaits all of us, it hardly behooves us to be boastful or full of ourselves. Ultimately we all turn into dust. Thus, true humility never lets us lose sight of our human mortality with all of its limitations (Armour, 2007).

  •  Authenticates our humanness.

The third reason that we need humility in leadership is because it authenticates our humanness. Or as John Baldoni states in his article entitled “Humility”: “Humility is a strand between leader and follower that underscores one common element – our humanity.” We humans are frail creatures. We have our faults. Recognizing what we do well, as well as what we do not do so well is vital to self-awareness and paramount to humility. Humility keeps us attuned to our frailty, our inadequacy, and our vulnerability (Baldoni, 2007).

 

 

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