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Here is an excerpt from Lee’s latest book, Leadership Matters. It contains 31 daily insights to inspire extraordinary results.

day 12: Humility

In today’s world of boastful athletes, it seems that humility is a lost trait. But the 2006 Winter Olympics in particular offer a shining example for athletes and business leaders, alike. For 14 days every four years, the Winter Olympics draws thousands of journalists to capture the triumphs of hundreds of athletes on ski runs, bobsled tracks, ice rinks and snowboard courses.

Each medal awards ceremony connects with the public’s admiration and national pride as athletes representing their home countries take the top step of the awards podium and that country’s flag is raised to the strains of the appropriate national anthem.

Without a doubt, everyone loves a winner, but there are also a few winning athletes who use their accomplishments to focus the eyes of the world – if only for a moment – on the needs of the less fortunate … and, in doing so, display humility, perhaps, in its purist form.

When Joey Cheek, representing the USA in speed skating, won the 500-meter competition in 2006, he graciously accepted the gold medal and then made these remarks to the media:

“I have always felt if I ever do something big like this, I want to be able to give something back. I love what I do; it’s great fun, but honestly, it’s a pretty ridiculous thing. I skate around in tights. If you keep it in perspective, I’ve trained my whole life for this, but it’s not that big a deal.

“But because I skated well, I have a few seconds of microphone time. And I know how news cycles work. Tomorrow there will be another gold medalist. So I can either gush about how wonderful I feel or use it for something.

“So I am donating the entire (winning) sum the USOC gives me ($25,000) to an organization, ‘Right to Play,’ that helps refugees in Chad, where there are over 60,000 persons displaced from their homes. I am going to be asking all of the Olympic sponsors if they will match my donation.”

Cheek went on to win a second medal, a silver in the 1,000 meters, and elected to give the $15,000 bonus he earned from the Olympic committee to the same cause.

In a recap of the 2006 Olympic activities, one commentator mentioned Cheek’s $40,000 donation. “It may be that Joey Cheek’s humility on the awards podium and the contribution of his medal bonuses to a worthwhile cause may set the stage for more Olympic athletes to do the same in the future.”

After the 2006 Olympics concluded, companies around the world had donated a total of $300,000 to match Cheek’s contributions.

Humility is not thinking less of ourselves but thinking of ourselves less, like Joey Cheek did. Inspiring leadership, in any venue, is about other people … not us. If we are fortunate enough to build a great team, we will all excel. Staying humble enables us to use our leadership platform to take a stand and conquer much more as a team than we could alone. Humility is not only a desirable trait in leaders, but it is also the fuel for inspiring leaders.

Humility is expressed in our actions, not our words. We cannot afford to be like the guy who was a member of a nationwide, professional association of leaders in the workforce. He was voted the most humble leader in the entire association for leaders. The association presented him with a medal that said, “The most humble leader in America.” Then they took it away from him at their next meeting because he wore it!

It’s normal to feel proud of a personal accomplishment, but humble leaders take more pride in their team’s accomplishment. Pride can turn into a slippery slope of egotism and arrogance. Inspiring leadership requires courage to conquer the outside forces and humility to conquer our inside forces.

Action Questions:

1. When my team succeeds, do I automatically give them full credit when I tell others about the success?

2. What is one small step I can take today to refocus my efforts on others rather than myself?

“To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.”
– Marleen Charles de Montesquieu

Copyright © 2012 by Lee J. Colan and The L Group, Inc.