Olympic Lessons: Do You Value Medals Over Morals?

The Olympics have come to represent the best and worst of humanity, which leaves of us with no shortage of lessons to learn as we watch the Games unfold.

There’s the courage and grit of so many athletes, some of them already well-known around the world and some who will find their 15 minutes of fame while in Rio. And then there’s the corruption that seems as symbolic of the modern games as the five interlocking rings.

Unfortunately, the latter often taints the former. And if you’re not vigilant, you will experience the same thing as a leader.

One scandal that’s overlapping from the Olympics to the Paralympics involves the corruption within Russia’s anti-doping system. In short, the governing bodies for the Olympics and the Paralympics found little evidence that the Russians can confidently ensure their athletes aren’t using performance-enhancing drugs.

The International Paralympic Committee, in fact, went so far as to ban all Russian athletes from their Games, which begin in about a month in Rio. When he announced the ban, IPC President Sir Philip Craven bluntly said, “Their medals over morals mentality disgusts me” and that the Russian government had “catastrophically failed its Para-athletes” with the “complete corruption of the anti-doping system.”

The International Olympic Committee didn’t take such a bold stand, so nearly 300 Russian athletes are competing in their Games. Some, of course, will win medals. And perhaps some of those winners will have achieved that result without cheating. But how many of us will view them without suspicion? In fact, as Craven pointed out, the dishonesty of the Russians taints every athlete in every sport.

“Their thirst for glory at all costs has severely damaged the integrity and image of all sports,” he said, “and has certainly resulted in a devastating outcome for the Russian Paralympic Committee and Para-athletes.”

Honesty is a “3H-Core” value in transparency. You can’t influence others with transparency without honesty, because a lack of honesty rips at the heart of trust. So as you watch the Games, look for ways to mirror the hard work and dedication of the winners. But ask yourself this: Is your competitive nature as a leader grounded in honesty, or do you have a medals-over-moral mentality?

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