Preparing For Greatness

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Our experts and analysts had expectations of the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London, England, that did not materialise, and yet there was no lack of ability or potential for greatness. The nation had high hopes for a good medal haul but was left disappointed. Nonetheless, the majority of Jamaicans at home and abroad remain grateful to our athletes and congratulate all those who represented us.

The outcome of the championships reinforces a truth that achieving greatness from potential calls for more than ability, skill or techniques. There is another ingredient worthy of serious consideration. Its absence runs across every area of national life like a plague that repeatedly denies us attaining the greatness within us. Its absence seems to have robbed us of a better medal tally at the World Championships. It’s the X Factor,

No doubt the team members were well prepared by good coaching techniques to manifest their skills, and certainly there was a strategy for success. They knew how to come out of the blocks, how to power through the drive phase, and how to keep their form and dip at the line. They knew the technical matters. What seemed to be absent at the time execution was the ‘who we are’ factor, as reflected in attitudes, values and character.

Let me paraphrase words from Eric D Thomas, popular American motivational speaker, author and minister: Talent can take you where only character can keep you.

American journalist Heywood Broun also correctly noted: “Sports doesn’t build character, it reveals it!” This World Championship may have given us a glimpse into the character of some of our athletes, but not only them; it is an issue that affects the broader society. And this is a part of our national psyche that needs work — the ability to define and begin to embrace ‘who we are’.

I don’t believe much time is spent on the characteristics of being. There is a significant difference between doing and being! Our team had surely spent a lot of time and effort on the technical matters in preparing for the championships. But did they spend much time in preparing for relational conflict, dealing with stress, or strengthening the inner person?

Attitude determines altitude

We are told of a conflict between two girls on the mile relay team. They are both brilliantly skilled, but they lack the internal mechanisms to cope with relational issues. It will be said that their lack of professionalism hurt the nation, but the event must have been equally distressing to them. If they fail to deal with this character issue, it may destroy their opportunities for greatness.

In sports, as in all fields of life, the internal disposition and mindset such as attitude, team spirit, determination, discipline and commitment are among the vital ingredients that ultimately determine the level and quality of success. We are familiar with the statement ‘attitude determines altitude’, but how much work are we doing on attitude? It is of utmost importance that greater emphasis be placed on ‘who we are’, out of a recognition that it will affect how we do what we do.

The preparation of our teams to represent Jamaica needs mental and emotional preparation as much as it needs the technical. Many coaches are excellent at ‘skills coaching’, but either lack the ability or fail to see the value of ‘coaching the heart’ in order to produce a more rounded and complete athlete for greatness. A talented athlete with a poor attitude, work ethic, and weak character will often limit his or her achievements. We see this over and over.

How many medals has Jamaica lost because of a failure to build character? How much greater would our teams be if we placed more emphasis on this critical issue? How much more could we have achieved as a nation if we were orderly instead of lawless; self-sufficient instead of dependent; united instead of divided? The results we have are a natural consequence of who we are, so we must settle who we want to be.

Usain as example

Let’s take notice of the difference that character development has made in Usain’s achievements. Does anyone remember the days when Usain easily lost heart in a race? The Usain we have seen since 2007 is a matured Bolt; evidently matured in strength of character both in training and performance. Even in his recent World Championship loss and injury, we witnessed an athlete who didn’t sulk and head for the tunnel fuming, like some USA athletes that he had previously beaten. Instead, we saw a gracious, even apologetic loser who embraced his victorious opponents. His responses were evidently not rehearsed; they couldn’t have been, as he was only used to winning, So the graciousness we saw, I believe, is connected to his being; the Usain inside, the character of the Bolt!

What we witnessed in the Usain Bolt farewell was a testament not merely to what Usain has been able to do, but more so a testament to who he has been while doing it. The commentators said more than once that another may come and set new records in his events, but that no one would do it like he did. They recognised the fundamental effect of the who. The world loves Usain because of who he has shown himself to be, not merely for his accomplishments. Usain grew into more than a record holder, he became a champion. He displayed courage, humility, a positive attitude, and a generosity of spirit that endeared him to fans the world over.

Who we are

It’s an important lesson. One that we must not lose if we want to see Jamaica achieve her greatness. It’s not just about what we do; it’s about who we are being while we are doing. Who we have been being has produced the corruption, injustice, crime, violence, scamming, low productivity levels evident in our country. This is all evidence of the lack of character in our society. Jamaica needs a generation of ‘great people’ in order to break out of the old patterns.

Despite all the academic accomplishments of our leaders, if we look at them over the past 30 years or more, we see among them some brilliant minds; persons trained in a variety of disciplines, university graduates, lawyers, medical doctors, PhDs; yet we also find such high levels of corruption and we have been plagued with so many scandals. It’s a problem of who they are, not a problem of skills.

We need to begin again to place substantial focus on character development. Yes, that same hackneyed phrase – values and attitudes. We have to keep emphasising it, because we have not yet seen the changes that are required. The content of our educational equipping must be total — rounded and complete with emphasis in the right places. Students must learn that who you are is more important than what you do. Leadership development focus must be on the ‘who, the being, the inside, the character of the man’. We need to get the ‘who’ right so that the ‘what’ can be done properly.

The inner man

Who you are will inform what you do and how you do it. The effectiveness of what you do will be limited by who you are, because behaviour is a result of thinking, which in turn is a result of what we believe. As a man thinketh, so is he.

When Jamaica qualified for the football World Cup Finals in 1998, I was fortunate to be a part of that effort. We took a team of young men, non-professional players in the main, and we put an unprecedented emphasis on their mental, emotional and psychological state. That’s what Rene Simoes, Carl Brown and myself did with them. Some were individuals who had significant problems. But we understood the need to deal with the attitude and character issues. The majority of the work was done in getting the team into the best mental performance state. We knew they could not perform better than who they were on the inside — what they believed about themselves, the need for mutual respect, respect for authority and unity in order to succeed, and what it meant to represent their country. Our weakest moment in France ’98 was when the mental and emotional state of the team temporarily broke down. We had to go to work to quickly restore it to finish strong.

When our teams are going to represent the country, the Jamaican gene idea must be riveted in them so that they become convinced of it. Alongside the technical and administrative staff, they also need the staff to help them with the spiritual, relational, emotional and psychological state of the players so that they can operate at peak levels of performance. As I have been pointing out, who the person is, is as important for success as his/her technical skills.

Be deliberate about greatness

How do we apply this principle across society? We have to become deliberate at building great teams, great organisations and great nations. What makes institutions great: the values to which they are committed. People relate to the values that the organisation has. Hence why people love Google but generally dislike Uber, even though both have created useful technologies and made millions. Google is admired not only for its algorithms but also because it is a great company to work for; they treat their employees well. Uber, on the other hand, is notorious for its toxic work environment. The great companies have an ethos that informs everything that they do.

Look again at Kingston College (KC) — they believe in something. There is an ethos that is inculcated once new students enter the school. That ethos begins to force something to happen to them and in them. It says, “Because I am at KC, this is who I must become.” It causes something recognisable to happen, so that even years later they are identifiable as products of that institution.

Jamaica must become a place where our Jamaican gene is recognisable for all the right reasons, including being warm and friendly, productive and disciplined; and putting the nation ahead of personal concerns. We need athletes and leaders alike — all of us — to put Jamaica first!

Copyright © 2017 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.

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