The Quiet Power of Selflessness

To me, teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one. You become selfless ~ Mike Krzyzewski

Much continues to be written about what marks out successful teams from those that fail. Most of us can think about our own experiences of both, and, no doubt, recall factors that contributed to both positive and negative experiences.



The Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro have been providing us with thrilling achievements, but while they shine a light on athletic stars and big names such as Usain Bolt, Simone Biles and Laura Trott, I am fascinated by the armies of unsung heroes. Team members who are vital parts of the success but who do not receive the same media attention. This can be coaches, trainers, physios and sometimes fellow athletes, who sacrifice themselves for the greater good. They may not receive the Olympic medal or the adulation, but their contribution is vital, often displaying a level of selflessness that appears extraordinary. I have touched upon the role of the ‘domestique’ in team cycling in previous posts, which illustrate this point further.

But, let’s take a closer look at this. The mental state required to achieve this is one of ‘selflessness’. And, to exist happily in this state, one must be more concerned about achieving the eventual outcome than about personal recognition for it being achieved. In other words, the outcome is the most important thing, not your own psychological state.

Let’s think about this in business terms. How many times have you been in situations, where you make a suggestion in a meeting? It may be heard momentarily before the discussion moves on. It may even be ignored or discarded completely. But after prolonged debate and conversational detours, the team settles on a way forward that is almost completely your original suggestion! What do you feel?   

  • Perhaps you feel annoyed that your suggestion was not adopted in the first place.
  • Maybe you feel aggrieved that someone else will get the credit for what, after all, was your idea.
  • You may question whether there was something about the way you put your idea across that did not cause it to stick first time.
  • You might doubt your powers of persuasion, or worse, believe that others are more favoured than you, and it was down to ‘personality or office politics’. 

But, stop for a moment.

  • Perhaps you planted the seed of an idea and it simply needed time to germinate in others’ minds and emerge organically.  
  • Why were you putting the idea or suggestion forward in the first place?  
  • Was the end goal achieved?
  • Will it help the business function better?
  • Will it lead to efficiency improvements?   

If the answer is yes, what is there not to like? That was the aim, after all, wasn’t it? Or was it?  

If you find yourself feeling that there was more to you putting the idea forward than this, if you weren’t completely ‘selfless’ in your motives, then that is certainly worth noticing. It is not wrong to want fair recognition, or to receive credit for good contributions, that is human nature.

However, it appears that in the world of elite sporting achievement, the most successful teams benefit from people who are prepared to forego the limelight, to give of themselves completely in pursuit of excellence, and for whom vicarious achievement is every bit as fulfilling as personal glory.  Is there something to be learned from this in our everyday lives?


This often proves to be a rich area of consideration in personal development coaching. 

Coaching is a powerful and proven approach for helping you release your inner creativity. Would you, or members of your organisation, benefit from exploring ways to make significant improvements in personal and/or collective effectiveness and productivity? Simply drop me your contact details on the Contact Us page and I will be delighted to speak with you. 


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