Winter Olympics, Incorporated

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I am intently watching the Olympics this year and it occurred to me, these brave and strong young people represent a business, the business of the Olympics and their country. Many even go through training on how to behave while representing their country. While watching the media hype around the games, one thing stood out: if there were going to be any remarks or behavior that weren't humble, it usually came from a man, not a woman.

Now granted, the Olympics are hyper-competitive, more so than most businesses. So in such a competitive atmosphere, perhaps men are more self-focused than women. Here are just a few examples I've seen of unprofessional behavior among male athletes in Olympics past and present:

  • When asked to explain the team's success, U.S. ski champion Bode Miller said, "aside from the fact that we're just much better than anybody else'¶" He went on to say, "All the big events, I've always done well in—when I decide that's what I want to do." I guess he decidedly didn't want to do well in Torino when he talked about skiing drunk in a 60 Minutes television interview. He touted that he had "an awesome two weeks while at the Olympics. I got to party and socialize at an Olympic level."
  • Silver medalist figure skater Evgeni Plushenko questioned the judging, saying he was the only leading competitor to land a quadruple jump, and therefore should have secured first place over gold medalist Evan Lysacek.
  • In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Ara Abrahamian of Sweden threw away his bronze medal in the Greco-Roman wrestling tournament because he thought he was robbed by the judges. He took the medal from around his neck during the medal ceremony, stepped off the podium and dropped it in the middle of the mat before storming off.
  • Korean speed skater Lee Jung-Su criticized Apolo Ohno as "too aggressive." "Ohno didn't deserve to stand on the same medal platform as me." He said that he was so mad it was hard for him to contain himself during the ceremony.

On the other hand, a few positive things I noticed from the female athletes:

  • Gold medal skier Lindsey Vonn, who was the center of media attention with an injured shin, is very close friends with German skier Maria Riesch, who she competes with on a regular basis. She also reportedly considers U.S. skier Julia Mancuso as a competitive rival, but neither of them seem to say anything bad about the other.
  • The three women on the U.S. snowboard team, Hannah Teter, Gretchen Bleiler, and Kelly Clark, all medalists at one time or another, all pull for each other and call each other great friends. They also congratulated the non-U.S. gold medal winner very warmly. They all seem to be in it for the sport.

So, how does this relate to any business? Are women more humble than men? Sure seems like it in the Olympics. It also could just be that there are more male athletes in the Olympics so it's a game of numbers. But these "business" men and women also have to be aware of what they might get out of it at the end of all of this: a great sponsorship. We all witnessed what happened to many of Tiger's sponsorship deals when he seemed disingenuous.

Maybe in your business you need someone who is completely self-focused and self-motivated, and that's ok. You just need to ask yourself--are you comfortable with the people that represent you and your company's values? When you look at men and women in your organization are there clear differences in how they represent your company? If so, are the differences what you'd want them to be? Maybe so, but it might be worth a look.

Now before I get blasted by readers, women are not immune to bad behavior in these Olympic games, as noted by the shameful incident when our own figure skaters Tonya Harding had Nancy Kerrigan attacked. And on a positive note, gold medalist snow boarder Shaun White is a gracious, charitable man who is out to give his sport a great name. So it's not a sweeping generalization, just food for thought and an opportunity to relate these exciting Winter games to your own business like I do at my company VerticalResponse.

Hey, I think Bode Miller is a great skier and really fun to watch. I just wonder, how many of you want him on your team, no matter how great he is? It's just something to think about for your business.

Last updated: Feb 26, 2010




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