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Stains That Don’t Wash Out

Creative Commons License photo credit: kaibara87

Yesterday, for perhaps the first time in his life, former Superman Lance Armstrong stopped fighting.

As a guy, it’s impossible not to admire Armstrong.

Fighting testicular cancer is typical behavior. When we get that sort of bad news, almost all of us suddenly find ways to do things we never had the gumption to do in all our prior days.

But winning, much less competing, year after year in a sport that punishes the boys like pro cycling does is way beyond typical.

A way of life

Lance has never seemed all that typical, though. He’s fought off cancer, Basso, Kloden, Ullrich and others. These days, he’s focused on helping others fight the “big C”.

And finally, he’s learned that proving a negative is a fight that’s far more difficult to win.

I can’t say one way or the other what Lance did or didn’t do, despite being a little bit familiar with the test results that have been made public. Without a doubt, the act of bailing out of a fight looks bad for Lance. The behavior of the USADA and their CEO looks no better.

Assumptions will cloud the view people have of every professional and Olympic-class racer.

Lance repeatedly tested clean, but he still quit fighting them” is all that’s needed to stain competitive cyclists everywhere. “The USADA had hundreds/thousands of clean tests from Lance, but they just kept chasing him” will be all that’s needed to bring the motives of testing organizations into question. Their authority will be suspect for years.

No matter what the reality is, both behaviors are now firmly seated in the public’s mind as cycling’s norm.

For the wanna-be yellow jersey wearer with Armstrong posters on their bedroom wall, it’s like watching road racing’s version of the Kobayashi Maru, except that this time, Captain Kirk just gave up.

“Did he?” will be the question that likely chases Lance for the rest of his life…the one pursuer that he can’t break in the mountains.

Closer to home

How do you bring this situation back to your small business and learn from it?

Ask Enron. Does anyone you know want to be the next creative wheeler-dealer in the energy business? If not, is it because they have a preconceived notion about what that business *really* does?

Almost everyone can think of a business (or business person) whose behavior has stained an entire industry, even if they were later found to be clean/innocent.

When the accusations are true, they’re often rooted in the smallest decision at a weak moment. A decision that rolls downhill like a snowball, gaining mass and momentum like an avalanche. Enron didn’t start off totally out of control. It was learned behavior that started with small decisions.

Small decisions begin momentum. They lead to bigger decisions. Soon, inertia makes it seem impossible to do what you know you should have done all along. History is full of examples of these things. Talk to your staff about them.

Start by setting the example every minute, every hour, every day. The little things people see will tell them how you deal with the big things.

Don’t be the answer to the question that your industry can’t shake.

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