"Sports don't build character. They reveal it." - Heywood Hale Broun
I heard that quote the other day driving in my car. It grabbed me for some reason. I had always thought that sports helped build character. It made me think.
To my wife's dismay, I'm a total sports nut. I tell her that I hate watching it on TV - except during the Olympics, the World Cup, March Madness, the Majors, the playoffs, the World Series, and the Superbowl. Certain moments should not be missed. Of course, she points out that there is one of those every weekend. Thank goodness for Tivo.
I will always remember ABC's Wide World of Sports and its stirring beginning - "the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat." I loved it. However, I love watching sports because it's not just about the final score.
Michael Jordan once said "I missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed." Not everyone can be like Mike, but character is revealed at every level. I vividly remember a friend recounting how his daughter finished her long-distance races in last place, long after the other kids had finished. She never quit. She finished every race, sometimes in near-darkness. (She also stopped coming in last).
Talent flows naturally for some but character is a matter of choice, not chance. Choosing the right path is not easy. It takes discipline and hard work - self-sacrifice - and a willingness to test yourself. If you've ever been on a team, ask yourself whether personal gain was more important than the team's gain. Everyone deserves recognition and a pat on the back, but character is revealed, not built, at certain moments. As you observe, it's important to be honest with yourself. As you make decisions, character is initially revealed to no-one else but yourself.
Abraham Lincoln once said that character is like a tree - the real thing - while reputation is merely its shadow. John Wooden advised his players to "be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” Vince Lombardi echoed a similar theme when he said that one cannot simply copy someone else's character. "Character must fit our own personality and characteristics if it is to withstand trial by fire."
There are almost endless analogies between sports and business - competition, teamwork, leadership, strategy, talent, preparation, execution, determination, blocking and tackling, etc. Business is a team sport. People in business inevitably face conflicts of interests and decisions about how to compete. In the heat of battle, decisions are made and character is revealed. Actions speak louder than words.
In business, statistics are tracked and recorded almost every moment of every day. Ultimately, keeping score is simple - it's all about money. Without profits, companies die. Money losing companies create desperation and despair; money making ones create options. With profits, companies can use it to do many things - create jobs, serve customers, pay taxes, and give back to their communities. Venture capital helps build companies; and if we do our jobs, those companies create value. They give back more than they take.
Paradoxically, even though business is “all about money,” the playing field embraces those who are not driven by it. If people are only driven by money, they eventually sell out, cash out, or peter out; they go away. To quote Jack Welch: "You know the type. They bank vacation days. They hand in slips of paper noting how many half-days or holidays they’ve worked. They remind bosses and colleagues of company policies regarding overtime....they are not working for fun or the passion to win. They’re just logging hours."
As business reveals character, we find that people not driven by money keep going and going. Sometimes they have to quit certain pursuits to find something more meaningful - more aligned with who they are - but they eventually get there. It's not just a trite lesson on perseverance and determination, there is something much more. A few years ago, I heard an entrepreneur make a comment which stuck with me: "I started my company 28 years ago, and I haven't worked a day since." (He was a Hedgehog entrepreneur).
People of great character love what they do and seem to have a passion for life. We've also observed that they develop into great leaders (and great entrepreneurs). They inspire others. They push hard yet bring out the best in people. They care. In the end, we believe that they will come out ahead, and certainly enjoy the journey more. Our favorites don't always win, but they persevere because they love the game. We're big fans and we cheer them on - because in our business, there is nothing more important than people.
As a final note, my wife always reminds me that not all people are competitive (yes, I can get way too competitive). She has a good point. As in sports, it's not just about winning or losing. As Warren Buffet once said, "your inner scorecard is more important than your outer scorecard... The people who ascribe too much to the outer scorecard sometimes find that it's a little hollow when they get all through."
However, even if you don't like the idea of keeping score, businesses need to get things done, and interestingly, great character helps drive results. If you know what's important to you, it's easier to focus and be more effective. If you're trustworthy, it's easier to develop great relationships. If you seek the truth, it's easier to get your ego out of the way and cut through the clutter. If you believe in what you're doing, it's easier to drum up moral courage and the kind of strength that money can't buy. Ben Franklin got it right when he said honesty is the best policy - it's just good business.