In 2008 Lolo Jones was streaking ahead of the competition on her way to a gold medal in the 100M hurdles when a misguided step destroyed her dream. She stumbled on the ninth of ten hurdles and finished 7th. She was on her way to gold but came away with nothing.
Four years later Lolo Jones had a chance at redemption! We wanted her to win because her mother raised her alone, because at one time in her youth they lived in a church basement. We wanted her to win because she should have won in 2008, because like many Olympians she rose out of poverty. And we wanted her to win because underneath her beauty we saw a courage, grit and determination we desperately desire. Sadly competing against a deep field she finished fourth, .10 seconds from a bronze medal. Once again her medal hopes were dashed.
In response the NY Times released an article criticizing Jones and her popularity leading up to the event. Lolo Jones has “received far greater publicity than any other American track and field athlete competing in the London Games. This was based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign.”
A crushed Jones, who happens to be the American indoor record holder, replied, “They should be supporting our U.S.Olympic athletes, and instead they just ripped me to shreds. I thought that was crazy because I work six days a week, every day, for four years for a 12-second race.”
Jones finished fourth in the world. THE WORLD! She didn’t finish 4th at the county fair, at a high school tournament, in a footrace between friends or even at a state track meet. She proved on the biggest competitive stage she was the fourth best hurdler in the world and yet clearly that wasn’t good enough. Despite all her hard work and the adversities overcome, someone probably much less accomplished than her, still needed to lambast her in the media.
Are you praising your employees for their efforts or only for their results? As a recruiter I worked with a hiring manager that often quoted to his employees, “Don’t confuse effort with results.” To put it another way, “just because you’re working hard does not mean you are working effectively.” Not a bad saying when trying to convey to employees that you want them to focus their efforts to maximize results. Hard work however does not always provide immediate results. Your employees’ road to success is filled with many obstacles. Your leadership and encouragement or lack thereof will determine if they make it to their goals or sit down in the road and quit. Providing continued guidance and encouragement in the face of failures will create a stronger, more capable employee.
As a manager how would you handle Lolo Jones or how did you react to her loss? In our constant pursuit for perfection in others do we reserve our praise only for our employees’ favorable results and overlook their efforts? What do you say for instance to a sales person who lost a deal despite putting in hours of overtime? Do we not understand that aside from our disappointments they might equally be as crushed?
At this stage is when your employees need you the most. You are the coach. You are the man or woman who needs to run out on the track, pick up your fallen employee, brush them off and say, “Damn good effort! You came up short today but tomorrow you can get them! Let’s regroup and come up with a new strategy.”
If you are a colleague then you are a teammate. Lolo Jones finished fourth but two of her U.S. teammates finished second and third. As a colleague do you allow your jealousies or pettiness to hinder another colleague’s success or your appreciation of their efforts? Does not their success within the company further the company’s progress as a whole which in turn helps you?
Lolo’s effort and continued commitment to promoting the U.S.’ excellence can’t be underappreciated despite her failure and likewise your employees’ efforts should also be valued, acknowledged and appreciated for their commitment to promoting your company. If not you are going to see a lot of employees walking out the door.