Recently, a close buddy of mine celebrated his 50th birthday and held a gathering of close with family, friends and work colleagues. My mate, JT, has lived a rather different life to most, devoting his passion and vocation to the Athletics profession. For the past 22 years, JT has managed a unique group of Distance runners, competing on the world stage, including World Champions – in the 800, 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 meter class. He currently manages David Rudisha – current world record holder, Olympic Champion and world champion for 800 meters.
JT’s passion for runners, for champions, is evident when he talks about his profession. In fact, during one of the speeches at his 50th, his sister shared the depth of his love for running and athletics, and the nature of his move to athlete management when at the age of 31, he threw in a career in banking to follow a dream – to manage a junior Kenyan runner called Japheth Kimutai who was about to embark on his running career in Europe. Who was to know JTs fate, and where his next 18 years would take him?
So 24 years later, in a wine bar in Crows Nest NSW, I find myself standing next to one of his athletes, someone he’s managed for 22 years – Bernard ‘Kip’ Lagat, and frankly, I’m in awe! I had followed and admired Kip for years. This guy has represented his native Kenya and since 2004 the USA at the highest level. At 1,500 meters, 3,000 meters and 5,000 meters he’s a champion, a world champion, a record breaker of note and now at the age of 40, is truly symbolic of the word ‘Champion’! Bernard will compete at The Rio Olympics in 2016, which is an incredible achievement for someone of his age.
As I spoke to Kip at JTs birthday celebration, I came to appreciate the importance and uniqueness of their relationship – 22 years with the same manager, now a close friend and mentor.
I appreciated the champion that was in my midst.
When you meet someone of Bernard Lagat’s character you are struck by the qualities and characteristics that make a champion. There are literally hundreds of Kenyan runners who enter and exit the world athletics stage each so what is about this bloke, born in Kapsabet Kenya, who moved to the USA at 18 years to study at Washington State university, and went on to become one of the greatest middle distance runners of all time, that makes him a true champion. What are some comparable lessons for business and people seeking success in the workplace.
- Confident yet humble – it’s a fine line in life and in business. Here I am talking to one of the great athletes of all time – sure he’s not Usain Bolt, but Bernard’s has equally risen to great heights across his career and yet through his humility and selflessness, makes you feel at ease
- Curious – I wanted to know more about his career and achievements but Bernard was equally keen to know about me, about my family, my work, JTs friends in the room
- A listener – engaged and listens to others
- Calmness and Aura – a champion who through his words and disposition oozes control, calmness and clarity
- Discipline & Passion – he has genuine commitment and love for what he does
- Respectful appreciation – he is genuine, grateful for his achievements and makes you feel like it’s not about him
- A sense of humour – at the end of the day, this guy is down to earth, self deprecating and loves the collegiality of communication with others
- Self belief – as a man with champion qualities, he possess a deep sense of self belief, backing himself (often against the odds) to be better than he was – as a athlete, a colleague, a father, a husband and a friend
When a champion comes to town he leaves an impression – a lasting impression & without knowing it, further defines the true meaning of a champion!