A Leadership Lesson from Livestrong

notbike The dust appears to be settling a bit. Another chapter in the this whole Lance Armstrong fiasco is behind us. I mean, once you go on Oprah, stuff’s official, right? Like most folks, prior to this latest bombshell, I fell somewhere on a spectrum of belief in Lance’s story and skepticism of the same, and that spot moved back and forth a little over time.

Want to know what’s weird though? Over the past few years, I found myself caring less and less about what Lance did or didn’t do. On one level, as one who’s had a little dust-up with cancer, I appreciated–and still appreciate–his battle to survive cancer, regardless of what he did or didn’t do afterward.

On the other hand, that little yellow rubber band that’s sometimes around my wrist wasn’t and isn’t really about Lance Armstrong. To me and millions of others, it doesn’t symbolize the ability to win a bicycle race or seven. It doesn’t symbolize our allegiance to a sport. And it doesn’t symbolize our endorsement of, excitement about, or admiration of Lance Armstrong.

This did get me thinking, though. Why wasn’t I more ticked about all of this? Should I be? As I looked around Facebook, Twitter, the web, and so on, I almost felt bad that I didn’t feel the same indignation that others seemed to. I mean, sure, it’s crappy; but I guess that while Livestrong has played some little part in my life, Lance Armstrong really hasn’t. Consequently, his current situation doesn’t really hit me like a ton of bricks.

Apparently, Livestrong has done something over the years that we should strive to do. They have made their organization about something other than its first famous and now infamous head. It’s always been about the fight against cancer, to be sure; but in its early years it was powered by Armstrong’s celebrity wattage.

livestrong-artwork-templateThey found a way to anchor their identity in something other than a celebrity. If you think back, you began to see less and less of Lance, and more and more grassroots, local stuff popping up all over the place. Livestrong had fostered something that was organic and real; it resonated with people on a human level. It was about them, and people knew it.

It was and is about a community of people with a common bond. Livestrong gave them a voice and a symbol. I think people who really appreciated and appreciate Livestrong did and do so because of its meaning in their fight against cancer, not because of some guy who could ride a bike really fast. In fact, as I think back, I can’t really even remember the last time seeing a Livestrong product made me think of LanceyPants.

If you’ll let me shift gears, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do as leaders? Leaders work hard to provide a compelling context for their teams, help them connect, show them the greater good, and then embrace humility so that they can make sure it’s always about the team. The group. The collective. The greater good. To attribute the accomplishments of a team to just its leader is to do injustice to the team. The group. The collective. The greater good. Sadly, it’s often leaders themselves who are guilty of attributing the team’s success to themselves.

So what do we do? We determine to lead well. Embrace humility. Serve first, then lead. Promote the good of the whole. And remember, it’s not about us.

2 thoughts on “A Leadership Lesson from Livestrong

  • A really great post Matt and an even greater reminder that people identify with the Livestrong Brand more with what IT represents and now with WHO it represents. Sure Lance started this and it will be the legacy that he will now leave behind, but the millions of people wearing the yellow band are wearing in not because of Lance and not for Lance. I am a personal branding specialist and a passionate cyclist. I stood by the Lance Brand for years and even used him as an example of a strong personal brand. I have a different opinion now (and I have written a lot about it), but in the end Lance will reinvent himself and when we really take a step back to see what he has done for fighting one of the biggest killers in the world I have to still have some respect, as a person, but maybe no longer as a cyclist. Thanks again.

  • Thanks for your comment. In some sense I understand that the two will be linked in some way forever because, as you rightly said, he founded the thing around his very compelling personal story. The cool part is that over time it became about something bigger than that. Something greater. Something far less centralized. Even if Lance himself thought it was still mostly about him, he was wrong.

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