I love the Olympics. Every four years, I move my favorite chair into position in the living room of my house, I get an extra, extra large cup of Diet Coke, and I settle in to watch any and all of the events that come on TV. In fact, when my brothers and I were kids, my mom would let us stay up to all hours of the night as long as what we were watching was the Olympics. Ping pong at 1:00 in the morning? I’m there! Equestrian horse jumping at 2:30 in the afternoon? I’m there, too! Gymnastics and swimming in prime time? Of course!
It goes without saying that I love the Olympics so much because of the excitement and the pride I feel especially for the USA’s athletes, but this year I’ve found myself loving the Olympics even more because of our school’s essential question along with something a friend of mine wrote in one of the best books I’ve ever read. As we do every year, we ask an essential question as a way of challenging ourselves as a community to think about big ideas and the opportunities those ideas present to us. This year we are asking, “How will I lead?”
In my friend’s book, she answers this question by focusing on the choices that we make as leaders. As it turns out, these choices are a paradox . . . which is a fancy word for a puzzle. They’re a puzzle because on the one hand the choices seem pretty simple, even simple enough for a Kindergartener to make. However, as you dig a little deeper, the puzzle gets harder because we realize that we have to make these choices EVERYDAY, and they’re pretty hard . . . so hard that even an 8th grader might have trouble making them.
First, leaders choose courage over comfort. Think about that for a minute. Courage over comfort. As I’ve been watching the Olympics, I’ve been amazed at the accomplishments of all the athletes. But, did you know that the vast majority of competitors who go to the Olympics will lose? That’s right . . . if we define “winning” as coming in first or receiving a gold medal, only 3% of the athletes who go to the Olympics will “win.” There are only 300 gold medals and more than 11,550 athletes, and in some cases (like Houston’s own Simone Biles) some of those gold medals will go to the same people. Each and every one of those 11,550 athletes is choosing courage over comfort when they don’t go to the movies one night or they don’t go to the school dance or they don’t even drink that Coke or that Sprite so that they can hopefully achieve their Olympic goals. Training for the Olympics is hard, it’s time-consuming, and it’s even uncomfortable, but those 11,550 people choose to be leaders in spite of the odds against them and in spite of the difficulties that they will face each and every day. It’s courageous to train for the Olympics, but it’s also courageous to stand up for your friend on the playground when people are being unkind; it’s also courageous to ask for help when you don’t know the way, the answer, or the directions; it’s also courageous to try something new at school that you’ve never tried before or to be friends with someone at school that you’ve never met before.
How will we lead by choosing courage over comfort today . . . and every day?
Next, leaders choose what is right over what is fun, what is fast, or what is easy.
(From the New York Times): New Zealand 5000-meter runner Nikki Hamblin was lying on the track, dazed after a heavy fall and with her hopes of an Olympic medal seemingly over. Suddenly, there was a hand on her shoulder and a voice in her ear: “Get up. We have to finish this.” It was American runner Abbey D’Agostino, offering to help. “I was like, “Yup, yup, you’re right. This is the Olympics Games. We have to finish this,’” Hamblin said.
Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D’Agostino set aside their own hopes of making the finals in their event to look out for a fellow competitor. In short, they chose to do what was right instead of what was fun, fast, or easy. Winning that race would have been fun, don’t you think? Winning is pretty much always fun, but that’s not what Abbey did. Running past Nikki would have been faster than stopping to help her up, but that’s not what Abbey did. Finally, it wasn’t easy at all to stop and help Nikki up, but that’s exactly what Abbey did. In the Olympics . . . with all her training and all her hopes and dreams on the line, with the whole world watching, Abbey chose to do what was right over what was fast, fun, and easy. You don’t have to be in an Olympic race to do what’s right, you know . . . you can pick up your classmate on the playground after a fall, in the classroom after a tough test, or on the stage after a forgotten line.
How will we lead by choosing to do what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy today . . . and every day?
Finally, leaders choose to practice values rather than just profess them. In other words, actions speak louder than words. The Olympic Creed says this: “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.” At the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea, Canadian sailor Lawrence Lemieux was moving along at a quick clip, even though the seas were very rough. About halfway through his race, he seemed to have a firm grip on the silver medal when disaster struck. Lemieux heard the cries of two Singaporean sailors competing in a different event nearby. One of them was clinging desperately to his boat, which had capsized under the six-foot waves. The other had drifted 50 feet away, swept off by the currents. Instead of staying in his race, Lemieux set a course for the sailors and pulled them out of the water. His hope for a medal dashed, Lemieux waited for rescue boats to arrive. By the time they did, he’d fallen to 23rd place. But Lemieux’s bravery did not go unrewarded. The Olympic committee gave him a special award for sportsmanship. It has been said that “what we do speaks so loudly that others can’t even hear what we say.”
How will we lead by choosing to practice your values rather than merely professing them today . . . and every day?
In addition to our essential question, we also offer a Scripture passage every year as a guiding answer for us to consider all year long. This year’s Scripture comes from the book of Titus and says this: “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity and seriousness.” To be sure, the Olympics provide us with some pretty great examples of doing “what is good.” However, the best example by far is in the person and teachings of Jesus, who chose courage over comfort; who chose what was right over what was fun, fast, or easy; and who chose to practice his values over merely professing them when He sacrificed Himself for each and every one of us.
Now that’s an answer to How will I lead that seems even more challenging than training for the Olympics!
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