When an idol, guru, leader or mentor let’s you down

With the whole Lance Armstrong story fresh in our minds, it brought a bigger question up for me, namely what do we do when the people we look up to and are inspired by let us down?

I read all of Lance Armstrong’s books and definitely felt inspired by the determination and focus as well as the fight with cancer. No matter what he did in order to achieve his wins in the Tour de France, that inspiration didn’t go away, in fact his whole admission in my eyes is brave. I believe that the truth is a lot less hard to carry on living with than a lie. I don’t condone his actions and definitely fundamentally disagree with doping and the army of enablers and facilitators that it took to pull it off so many times and I also agree he needs to live with the consequences of his actions. But admitting all this took courage and he lost a lot as a result from respect to fortune. But it confirms his humanity all the same, the super-human endeavours of all the wins, but also the turning point when he saw his sone defend him and how that made him feel. That’s humanity and it takes a great character to give everything up in order to be honest in the eyes of the ones he truly loves.

In my view Lance Armstrong’s story is not a stand alone situation, having dealt with high achievers in business through my coaching, there often is a clash of drive versus values as well as a consistent striving for competitive advantage and opportunity to take short cuts. To achieve the ultimate pinnacle in sport or business some decisions are made which with hindsight knowledge turn out to be massively regrettable, Enron jumps to my mind as another such story. The protagonists in these stories have to learn to live with their actions and consequences and believe me guilt and regret are not the easiest feelings to process. Let’s not forget we all make mistakes and when they are of such proportion that turning back could bring a whole sport or business down, then the decision to come clean is no longer simple and clearcut it has massive implications.

As said in the interview it will be a long process to work through for Lance Armstrong and it will take persistent courage to keep going, because of the scale of the whole set-up and equally the amount of people involved that he publicly bullied, humiliated and wronged. For all of that to heal will take a lot of effort and time and maybe won’t happen in full in his life time. I hope that most people will recognise that harbouring hate is not going to resolve anything, but to look at the situation and agree that he has consequences to face which he said he was willing to face (even if they are different) and that he is sorry, whether you believe him on his words or not, that is actually not our call to make. But to realise we all make mistakes of some proportion and to have the opportunity to apologise and come clean is what is of value. It won’t make the previous actions undone, but in my view it shows humanity and I respect that.

I want to draw the analogy a bit further into the world of personal development where you have a large number of inspirational figures, guru’s, mentors, etc call them what you will and some impress consistently without fail and others just like Lance let us down whilst making us believe the opposite of the truth. As a follower you feel betrayed, when the true story breaks, outraged for the audacity of the guru to persist with the false pretences and for every time you have second guessed yourself whether it is true or not, you now have confirmation that your intuition was right all along. The irony is that unlike Lance, a lot of the guru’s never apologise but just restart with the same message and a new cohort of willing followers.

I struggle with that concept and the lack of true integrity by some of the big names as well as the drive for profits over results. They do what they can to sell their programs, but when you don’t have the results they claim are possible or no results at all the door get’s slammed straight in your face, empathy and support go out the windows and you are left not only with a hole in your pocket financially but also left questioning what went wrong in this picture. Most of people will decide that it must be them, they aren’t good enough or hadn’t the right skills or set-up or whatever, you know what a great leader would have got you forward no matter what and would still stand by when the results weren’t forthcoming only those that prefer profit over values will let you down.

From my experience as a trainer and coach, you never know for sure when someone breaks through or what exactly you say or do that will have that effect, but the worst time to let someone down is when they need you most. From my point of view the whole story of calculated doping in cycling (and very likely a bunch of other sports too) is reflective of this drive for top spot, top dollar that prevails over values like integrity, care and commitment. Sorry is a good start and I wish the guru’s of this planet follow suit and admit their lies, so we can all start healing our way to what is truly of value. All you have as followers is your own values and opinions and more than anything when faced with conflicting information, you have to make up your own mind and be true to yourself.