By Joe Lim
There are two ways to create the tallest building in town. One can spend all their time and energy tearing down the buildings around them, or one can focus on making their building the tallest. The value of the two final products will be vastly different.
From an ethical perspective, tearing down the work of others is frowned upon. There is nothing to gain from it. When “tearing down” becomes the primary strategy, the whole town loses. It wastes time, energy, and opportunities that could have otherwise been spent doing important work. The quality of the entire town suffers and one’s ‘tallest building’ will only appear so as it stands out from the rubble.
However, if the architect focuses that time and energy on building, it raises the standards for everyone. If others want to stand out, they will be challenged to do the same. Raising the status quo not only inspires individuals to work harder, but it inevitably turns buildings into towns and towns into cities. With this strategy, growth is possible.
The world of athletics works in the same way. Much like the architect, champions understand that it is better to have the tallest building in a great city than the tallest structure in a dilapidated town. Champion athletes work to improve their abilities while enhancing their teammates’ abilities. This benefits a communal good. This raises the standards of performance for all members.
I work with a nationally ranked rowing team. This group has excellent work ethic and excellent leadership. For them, the bar is set high. They are all called upon to uphold the standard. We train leaders, always. On the erg, in the water, and under the bar.
During the barbell back squat, for example, coaches and experienced lifters should demonstrate elite technique. Never letting the lifter sacrifice technique for heavier weights becomes a constant reminder that they have a standard to uphold. Each lifter is counted on to challenge themselves on maintaining their posture and technique under stress. They hold each other accountable. They uphold a standard.
At every turn, the lifter with the bar on their back is building the tallest building in town. They push each other not by tearing each other down, but by constantly striving toward high standards.
Even in “solo” sports like wrestling and cross country, leading by example is equally important. The value of pushing the limits of what a single person can do is that one pushes the limits of what a whole group of people could do.
In the 1950s, most believed that running a mile in fewer than 4:00 minutes was physically impossible. Many runners chided their peers by saying that it was ‘silly’ or ‘idealistic’… not Roger Bannister.
On May 6, 1954 Bannister changed everything. His 3:59 minute mile proved people wrong and set a new standard for runners. All of a sudden, runners across the country were inspired and believed that more was possible. Following Bannister’s achievement, hundreds of runners have broken the previously impossible 4:00 minute barrier. They just needed to be shown that it could be done.
Banister did not join the naysayers, he did not tear down his competitors. He pushed himself and set an example. He built the tallest building in town.
Leading by example has proven to be time and time again, the most effective method to implement lasting change. Whether you’re an architect, a rower, a runner, a teacher or a coach, strive for more. Your teams are watching.