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The olympic swimmer who cannot swim

Here is an old story that packs a powerful lesson. It inspired me a lot and I hope it will inspire you too.

Eric “The Swimmer” Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea was an unlikely hero of the Sydney Olympic Games. The 22-year-old African had only learned to swim a few months before the Olympics, had only practiced in a 20-meter pool without lane markers, and had never raced more than 50 meters.

By special invitation of the International Olympic Committee, under a special program that permits poor countries to participate even though their athletes don’t meet customary standards, he had been entered in the 100-meter men’s freestyle.

When the other two swimmers in his heat were disqualified because of false starts, Moussambani was forced to swim alone. Eric Moussambani was, to use the words of an Associated Press story about his race, “charmingly inept.” He never put his head under the water’s surface and flailed wildly to stay afloat. With 10 meters left to the wall, he virtually came to a stop. Some spectators thought he might drown!

Even though his time was over a minute slower than what qualified for the next level of competition, the capacity crowd at the Olympic Aquatic Center stood up and cheered the swimmer on.

After what seemed like an eternity, the African reached the wall and hung on for dear life. When he had caught his breath and regained his composure, the French-speaking Moussambani said through an interpreter, “I want to send hugs and kisses to the crowd. It was their cheering that kept me going.”

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Ever wondered why any basketball team prefers to have the game played in their hometown? It’s the cheering. It’s the encouragement that brings out the best in people.

It is the same thing in business.

I have been to different corporations and conducted talks and trainings for them. From the big to the small, from the once great to the emerging great ones, I see the same pattern.

The different management styles of companies surely decide whether company personnel are highly motivated or are purely in it for the money alone. When leaders cheer, encourage, motivate and inspire, their people inadvertently give their best. But when leaders or owners of businesses are intimidating, coercive, manipulative and fails to express their appreciation, the personnel cannot deliver their best.

Every person needs encouragement and affirmation. A good leader understands that he or she cannot bring out the best in people through coercion or intimidation. They bring out their people’s best through inspiration and attraction and they do this by cheering, inspiring, encouraging, engaging and expressing their appreciation for a job well done all the time.

Bad leaders go all over the place trying to catch people doing wrong and reprimanding them. Good leaders go all over the place trying to catch people doing right and complimenting them.

Here’s the rule of thumb. Good people are willing to work harder and sometimes even for lesser pay as long as they know their contribution to the company is appreciated and that they have room for personal growth and advancement. Mediocre people simply consider the money factor and nothing else.

What effective leaders need to do is to look hard enough for more reasons to cheer, encourage, motivate and inspire those who give their hearts out in their job because encouragement is the fuel that would keep them going.

Management guru Peter Drucker says it correctly: “People are a resource and not a cost.” And I agree. This is precisely the reason why leadership skills should be developed, updated and upgraded especially as they deal with Millennials that now comprise the majority of the work force.

Somebody says this beautifully. “If you want to be prosperous for a year, grow grain. If you want to be prosperous for ten years, grow trees. If you want to be prosperous for a lifetime, grow people.”

Even Scriptures is filled with the words, “Encourage one another” Because our Maker knows what we need.

Here’s the question now: Who do you need to cheer, inspire and encourage today?

(Connect with Francis Kong in or listen to “Business Matters” Monday to Friday at 8:00 AM and 6:30 PM over 98.7 dzFE-FM “The Master’s Touch”, the classical music station.)

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