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An anthropologist proposed a game to some children in Africa. He placed a basket of fruit near a tree and told them that whoever got to the tree first could have all the fruit.
When he gave the signal to go, all the children held each other’s hands and ran to the tree together. Then they sat in a circle enjoying the fruit.
When the anthropologists asked why they’d run as a group when the winner could have had more fruit on his own, one child said, “How can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?”
For years I’ve maintained that nice guys can finish first. Leo Durocher may have been a great Major League Baseball manager, but he was a misguided cynic when he remarked that “Nice guys finish last.” Many of the most successful people I know are also among the nicest. There’s just too much evidence out there to deny it.
More than just a warm, fuzzy feeling, being nice and being a good sport is not mutually exclusive. No one wants to play with a jerk – or a cheater, a showoff, or a braggart. One of the best commercials currently running features athletes of all ages stopping in the midst of competition to help other people up.
Another excellent example of sportsmanship occurred at the 1969 Ryder Cup, a biennial men’s golf competition between teams from Europe and the United States. The team competition was tied at 15.5 in the final match between Britain’s Tony Jacklin and American Jack Nicklaus, who reached the 18th hole tied. Nicklaus made his par putt, and Jacklin faced a three-foot putt to earn the first-ever tie in the competition. Instead of forcing his rival to make the putt, Nicklaus picked up Jacklin’s ball marker and conceded the tie.
Nicklaus said, “I don’t think you would have missed that, Tony, but I didn’t want to give you the chance.”
The annals of sports are filled with inspiring stories of that sort. Successful businesses should have the same chapters in their histories. But if your business doesn’t, examine the deficiencies in the culture and make some improvements.
In business, being nice doesn’t mean being ineffective. My mother taught me, “It’s nice to be important but more important to be nice.” My father always said, “You get more in life with sugar than with vinegar.”
Frightened and mistreated people underperform. Talent doesn’t flourish in a culture of doom and gloom, intimidation and insecurity. A bullying executive is an executive unsure of himself or herself. The people they supervise realize how damaging this is. Morale sags, performance suffers and profits decline.
The methods for fostering sportsmanship in business are much the same as they are when teaching children. Play fair. Avoid arguing. Follow directions. If you lose, don’t make excuses. If you win, don’t rub it in. Appreciate what others do well. Be supportive and respectful. Be willing to learn. Have a positive attitude.
Learn from your mistakes and push yourself to do better next time. If someone else makes a mistake, encourage them instead of criticizing them. Try your best, that’s all anyone can expect.
We teach our kids to show respect for teammates and officials, and it’s the same for co-workers. Realize that through proper sportsmanship, we all win and our company wins.
I am a strong believer in competition. I think it makes all of us better. However, I understand that some leaders try to eliminate competition at work because it can cause conflict. That’s where sportsmanship really comes into play. Encourage everyone to do their best and cheer their success. Then use this success as incentive to achieve greater results. Leaders should want people to stretch themselves and get out of their comfort zones.
Competition isn’t all about contests and incentives. It’s about people pushing themselves to be better every day. The goal is to be the best you can be and never give up. If you win, be gracious.
Sportsmanship should be a requirement at work. Leaders should set the stage and demonstrate that the team is more important than individuals. We’re all in this together. Don’t be offended by others’ success; cheer them on and learn from them.
Simon Nguyen said, “Victory is remembered for at most two decades; an act of good sportsmanship is remembered for a lifetime.”
Mackay’s Moral: Sportsmanship: lose with grace, win with class.
Reprinted with permission from nationally syndicated columnist Harvey Mackay, author of the New York Times #1 bestseller “Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive,” and the new book “We Got Fired!…And It’s the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Us.”


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