As I was going over some of the “Doing Business in Ethiopia” articles, I came across Anbessa, based on a wonderful example of world class sportsmanship. I’d like to share it with the reader again as there is much we can learn from it in terms of leadership.
I want to take the reader back to the 10,000-meter men’s final during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. I referred to it a few times before in this column, but I want to go a bit deeper into it as I believe there are a few lessons we can learn from it.
The Ethiopian team for this race consisted of Haile Gebre Selassie, Kenenisa Bekele and Sileshi Sihine. Four years earlier, in Sydney, Haile treated us to a nail-biting final, beating Kenyan Paul Tergat, only just on the finish line, while Kenenisa in the following years broke the World Records for both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Expectations for this race were high and the Ethiopian team certainly rose to the occasion. The three stayed close together for two third of the race and it was in the 19th minute, after 7,200 metres and with 7 laps to go, that Haile could not keep up the pace anymore of Kenenisa and Sileshi. As the gap between them grew wider, Kenenisa and Sileshi noticed that their hero and role model for years, trailed behind. They looked around several times to see where Haile was and decided to slow down a bit to allow him to catch up. And catch up he did; the crowd went wild. With now still 4 laps to go, Kenenisa and Sileshi stepped up the pace again as the race entered its final stage. Haile had to let go and Kenenisa and Sileshi outran their Eritrean and Ugandan rivals, almost sprinting to the finish line. Gold and a new Olympic record for Kenenisa and Silver for Sileshi were their rewards. Haile crossed the finish line in 5th place. The same night Teddy Afro wrote a song called “Anbessa”, expressing in words and tune, the demonstration of respect and love of Kenenisa and Sileshi for Haile, never witnessed before in the track & field arena. This was truly touching to witness.
So, what is it that we can learn from this, if anything?
In the first place, that it is important to always look around us and see if others that we are close to, can still follow our pace. This is an important principle to follow for anybody who is in a leadership position, whether in the business, the family, in church, at school or indeed in the Government. We need to check always if there is anybody or if there are groups of people that fall behind, that cannot keep up with the pace set by the frontrunners. There are many reasons why some or even many cannot keep up, like for example illness, weakness, poverty, lack of access to resources and services or the lack of opportunity, just to name a few.
The second lesson we can draw from this is that recognising reasons why others remain behind, gives us now the opportunity to do something about it. We can slow down, provide support, help somebody, encourage them, empower somebody, provide opportunities, and show the way. Indeed, Ethiopia enjoys a steep economic growth, but who can keep up with the pace and who is remaining behind? What then can be done to close the gap?
Thirdly, Haile finished 5th and although not fast enough for a medal, that was still a very remarkable result. He still indeed outpaced most of the runners that started the race. But the gap between him and the frontrunners grew wider. We see the same thing happen in economics in general and doing business in particular. While we are trying our best and grow our business and economy at a respectable rate, as long as others go faster, a gap will grow and become bigger as we progress. This is especially apparent in ITC. Internet capacity and speed are growing globally by the day and in most cases faster than we can keep up with here. In other words, the digital divide keeps getting wider and wider. We should not be satisfied with the apparent speed of our development but instead aim to catch up with the frontrunners, lest we keep falling behind.
Fourthly, as the runners crossed the finish line one by one, the three Ethiopian team members quickly found each other and celebrated the victory together. Holding the Ethiopian flag together, they enjoyed the cheers from the crowd and displayed a true team spirit to the world. Even though Haile did not win a medal this time, his contribution to the team was priceless, as the three of them set the pace of the race for 18 laps or 7200 meters. Recognising the contribution of all team members is so important if the team is indeed to accomplish such remarkable achievement.
Finally, Haile had been the world champion on the 5,000 and 10,000 meters for a number of years and now the time had come for others to take over. Haile allowed this to happen happily and with pride. In fact, he himself pushed Kenenisa and Sileshi to the limit and made them succeed. He truly groomed them to take over. As we all play a leadership role in our work, at home and in whatever position we hold, it should be all our desire and aim to groom the younger talents around us and help them grow and succeed and be ready to take over from us. Only then, whatever we achieved, will be sustained. We can all be the lion that Teddy Afro sang about. Anbessa!
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