Sports references to teamwork, problem solving and achievement are commonplace in any office, and sporting events often shed light on the obstacles that we face in daily life. Like athletes, our team at Eckel & Vaughan uses instinct, tact and prowess to win and provide our clients with creative and unique work, take advantage of new business opportunities and gain recognition for the firm among our peers.
Our natural instinct is to focus on the success and achievement of winning teams and athletes, and while this is undoubtedly the most exciting aspect of a sporting event, there is immense value in examining the shortcomings and underperformance that lies on the other side of victory.
The past several months served up a healthy slate of consequential tournaments, such as the Olympics, the European Cup and Wimbledon, along with a constant stream of baseball and golf. Furthermore, professional organizations continue to win and lose in the offseason, based on contract extensions, new signings, trade deals and more. Among the wins and losses, there were two prime and very public examples where a team with tremendous potential and quite possibly the most prolific gymnast in the world were confronted with adverse outcomes that defied public expectation.
With, objectively, the most talented team in the UEFA European Football Championship, the Three Lions were heavy favorites from the start to win the tournament. However, the final, played at London’s Wembley Stadium, offered an English performance that was indicative of the team’s collective history over the past 55 years: an exciting and promising start, ending in heartbreaking defeat. So, how did Gareth Southgate, the team’s publicly lauded manager, allow the final match to elude his squad? He substituted Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho onto the pitch minutes before the penalty shootout, so they would be available to take spot kicks for their team. These two players are certainly capable of winning important games for their teams. However, they spent the majority of the tournament on the bench and only got a taste of the final in the closing minutes. They would both go on to miss their penalty kicks, and Italy lifted the cup.
Several weeks later, on the other side of the Eurasian landmass, the Summer Olympics were kicking off in Tokyo. Even with the controversy leading up to the games, fans were greatly anticipating the Tokyo Olympics as a symbol of the return of pre-pandemic normalcy. While there was significant buzz surrounding the addition of new events, such as skateboarding, surfing and golf, the majority of American viewers were fixated on a single athlete: Simone Biles. A strong case could be made that Biles is the most talented gymnast of all time. Maneuvers have been named after her, and officials recently changed rules to level the international playing field. However, disbelief, criticism and speculation became rampant after Biles withdrew from all but one event. After suffering through days of seething judgement and resentment, Biles persevered to win the bronze medal on the balance beam.
So, what can the young footballers of England and a once-in-a-lifetime Olympic talent have to tell the world of communications professionals, writers and managers? While we are all dedicated to preparing as much as possible for anything a client can ask of us, the real world often throws our teams into crisis situations where that preparation can only serve as a foundation for the decisions we have to make in the moment and on the spot. England’s manager, Gareth Southgate, made the wrong decision. His decision seemed to be based on assumption, rather than a thorough understanding of the game up to that point. Biles, on the other hand, made the right decision, even under unimaginable public scrutiny. She understood that there was a disconnect between her mind and body and decided not to put her or her teammates’ futures in jeopardy. By pulling out of the initial events, she avoided what would have likely been a disastrous performance, which would have taken a tremendous toll on Biles’ body, and more importantly, her psyche.
Alas, we must be self-aware and versatile in the workplace to overcome obstacles that even the most thorough amount of preparation cannot account for. We must be prepared to make decisions that may seem counterintuitive at the time in order to solve complex and abstract problems. We must be honest with ourselves, thinking about strengths and weaknesses and where we fit into the greater good of the team. We need to understand the needs of our teammates to better serve them, so they can better serve their clients. We must create an environment where individuals feel comfortable acknowledging shortcomings and seeking support. Lastly, we need to lean into the situational awareness, which will allow us to make meaningful decisions in the best interest of our clients, our firm, and our mental and physical health. There will always be much to be learned in victory, and possibly, even more so in the absence of victory.