Nonprofit Performance 360 Issue 12



What makes a Champion?

What makes a champion? We must start with an uncomfortable truth: natural talent helps, especially in sport! I remember about 45 years ago, running in my first competitive race at my school Sports Day. I remember the running track, with the grass freshly mowed. It was a sunny day. The race was over 440 yards, four times around our small track. I settled in behind the lead runner, calculating to overtake him on the last bend before the straight run to the finish. The race went to plan until, just as I reached the bend, I tried to sprint forward. Suddenly, my legs just didn’t have the energy. The mental will was there, but the physical capacity was not. I remember that feeling of shock and disappointment now as clearly as I did then, the disconnection between desire and ability. I still have my silver cup for coming in second. But silver was not what I wanted. I wanted gold. But I chose to try to be a champion in a different field, and it is true that most people have innate talent at something. Performance matters and champions are not just athletes. They are scientists, entrepreneurs, artists, philanthropists. They are people who the world sees in photos and on TV, people of fame and wealth. But they are just as often people that no one outside of a small circle has heard of: champions of compassion, of fortitude under suffering, of works of humanity towards others. Such champions often enjoy less fame or fortune when alive, but are more often commemorated after death.They are champions of the human spirit.

Not everyone can be a champion. But many, perhaps even most of us, have the capacity to do something exceptionally well. Most of us have a gift. The issue is this: how to develop that gift? What are the qualities that take talent and turn it into an achievement, that translate the ordinary into the extraordinary? For sure, there is a part, perhaps even the major part, of being a champion that is not to do with natural physique or natural intellect, but is to do with character, attitude, the dimension of the mind that can be discovered and developed. You can improve. You can, in doing so, cross the line between the average and the good and, in time, even the line between the good and the outstanding. It can be dangerous to describe rules of improvement, to try to codify the qualities. Champions are about exceptions, not rules. Nonetheless, I believe it is possible to identify characteristics you find in champions. I have chosen seven. First, success comes to those who strive. To me, striving is more than wanting to be the best. It means even if you are the best, striving to be better. Second, champions are creative people. They are innovative.They are always pushing to the new frontier. They don’t accept the givens of any field of endeavor. They challenge them. Third, champions are endlessly inquisitive. This also means knowing you can be wrong. You may have to

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