Home » Blog » Surely serving others is where our greatness lies!

History is filled with great leaders who’s greatness seems to come from serving others. Interestingly, many of these great leaders are also great storytellers.  Whether their story is ‘fact or fable’ does not interfere with ‘the power of a great metaphor’.

One of my favorite books is a story called “The Magician’s Way” by William Whitecloud, it is a wonderful story and metaphor about how our own egos are the greatest obstacle to our greatness.  The story starts off with a guy who is not exactly a big golf fan, being drawn to have a golf lesson with a coach who has wisdom far beyond the game of golf.  This golf lesson ultimately becomes a metaphor for his life, which plays out in the rest of the story.

So even for you non-golf lovers out there the events of golf’s recent Ryder Cup presents a wonderful story and metaphor about how our dedication to something ‘beyond ourselves’ takes us to another level of greatness!

Once every 2 years for 3 days only, the usually very individual game of professional golf becomes a team game called ‘The Ryder Cup’ where the very best 12 players from the USA compete against the very best 12 from Europe.  Suddenly, players who are usually only focused on representing themselves find themselves representing a team as well as millions of golf fans around the world.

At the latest event in Medinah, Illinois the European golfers each had an image embroidered on the sleeves of their golf shirts, an image that symbolized one of the most incredible team performances in the game’s history.

On the penultimate day the European team found themselves amongst a cauldron of American golf fans. They were staring defeat in the face, at one point being down by 10 points to 4 with the USA team needing only another 4.5 points for victory.  At this point something extraordinary had to happen for Europe’s team to turn things around, and it did; the European players started playing some of the greatest golf ever witnessed.

The question is …‘Why do some individuals play so much better when they are playing for a team than when they are playing for themselves?’   The greatest Ryder Cup player in history with the most number of winning matches for Europe up until this event is Colin Montgomery; a man who has played in 72 major golf tournaments in his career, without winning a single one.  However, when it came to playing the American major champions in the Ryder Cup ‘Monty’ usually prevailed by playing beyond the level he did as an individual player.  Indeed, once every 2 years when ‘Monty’ played as part of  The Ryder Cup team he seemed to be able to raise his game to a level beyond some of the greatest ever golfers; why is this?

Monty seemed to inherit this ‘inspirational team player mantle’ from another great Ryder Cup golfer who came before him, the legendary Seve Ballesteros who recently passed away.  Seve is widely credited with breaking the previous American domination of the Ryder Cup. People still talk about how for many years during the 1970’s and 1980’s Seve gave his heart and soul to the Ryder Cup team.

The inspirational mantel that Seve passed to Montgomery appears to have now been passed to the Englishman Ian Poulter, another man who has never won a golf major championship, yet who now has the astonishing Ryder Cup record of 12 out of 15 wins, beating numerous major champions along the way.

Early on in the competition Ian Poulter was partnered with Northern Ireland’s ‘world number one’ Rory McIlroy, however McIlroy by his own admission played ‘really poorly’.  Despite this Ian Poulter managed to steer them to victory by achieving birdies on each of the last 5 holes, something that no other professional player in history has managed in a major competition on the Medinah course.

At the end of the second day of play at Medinah, in his first singles match Poulter was 2 holes down with 6 to play and turned it around in the last few holes for yet another unlikely win to get the overall scores closer at 10 – 6 and give Europe at small flicker of hope going into the final day.  As Ian Poulter walked off the final green having just sunk another winning birdie putt he was met by the BBC’s golf reporter.  The reporter asked Poulter about how personally pleased he was with his game and his response without hesitation was “… it’s not about me, it’s about the team!”  When I heard the interview on the news I remember thinking to myself ‘Wow, he really means it, he is giving everything he has got for others’.

A great mentor of mine once told me “You know when you are truly connected to other people, because you will do more for them than you will for yourself”

Imagine if a business team was to embody this, imagine how much their potential and their performance levels would expand, imagine how much more purposeful and fulfilled people would be in their work!

Another great quote that I love because it captures this sentiment so well is from Dr Wayne Dyer “When you want something and your thoughts and actions reflect that you want it more for someone else than you do for yourself, you will automatically receive it”

On that final day a series of unbelievable events unraveled, European players in various matches were sinking 20, 30 and 40 foot putts to pull of a series of close fought victories.

Justin Rose was playing one of America’s greatest ever players Phil Mickelson, he was 2 holes down with 3 to play, Mickelson was playing wonderful golf, and surely even a draw was out of the question. 3 times in a row Rose converted unlikely monster putts to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, Mickelson demonstrated his huge sportsmanship by applauding each of Rose’s sots and by warmly congratulating him at the end.

An American friend of mine Rick was among the spectators supporting the USA.  He was following the Rose v Mickelson match and he told me he had seen Justin Rose touching the embroidered image on his sleeve that was  worn by all of the European team.  This image was of the late Seve Ballesteros!  If a team were ever to make a clear statement that they are playing for a purpose beyond themselves then this was it!

Europe were on a roll and eventually the previously out of form German golfer Martin Kaymer played the round of his life and finished it by holing out a 6 foot putt that ensured Europe would taking the Ryder Cup back to Europe.  When Kaymer was interviewed afterwards he talked to the reporter about how the European team had turned this match on it’s head because so many of them took their performances to new levels.  Kaymer spoke about the inspiring pre-match speeches of their captain José María Olazábal which dedicated the team’s performance to the memory of great friend and mentor Seve Ballesteros. Kaymer recalled that afterwards there was hardly a dry eye amongst the team, adding “You can not learn to speak like that because it comes from so deep inside.”

When Kaymer was asked about what it felt like to be standing over the Ryder Cup winning putt he said “…I had to make it for José María and the other players.” adding “I felt like the whole of Europe was standing there with me….” He also added “Yes I have won a major golf tournament before when I was 25 years old, but then I was me playing for myself, this was about other people it was so much bigger and greater, it is the greatest moment of my career!”

The whole Ryder Cup experience was best summed up by one of the greatest quotes I have ever heard, not from a great philosopher, writer or poet, but from the Ryder Cup captain José María Olazábal at the final ceremony when he said All men die but not all men live and you made me feel alive again this week

A few hours after the victory, my American friend Rick sent me a text saying ’I think Seve had something to do with this!’

Looking for achievements and other such things to establish greatness ‘for ourselves’ seems to have it’s limitations; however, it would appear that when we choose instead to help others find their greatness we inadvertently find ours!

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