What the Winter Olympics Taught Me About Nonprofit Governance

The 2010 Winter Olympics rocked!  Having grown up in Vancouver, I recognize my bias.  But come on, the Double McTwist 1260, the men's hockey gold medal match between Team Canada and Team USA, both flawless and courageous performances on the ice, the craziness of short track speed skating, k.d. Lang's rendition of Hallelujah at the opening, and giant inflatable beavers at the closing!

So, what does any of this have to do with nonprofit governance?

  1. Even if your organization is considered the best at what it does, be creative and push your organization to be even better.  Learn from Sean White.  With the gold medal already secured, the Flying Tomato takes a last run down the halfpipe and unleashes a trick nobody else has done – the Double McTwist 1260.
  2. Keep shooting at the goal.  Learn from Sidney Crosby.  The 22-year old heir to Wayne Gretzky scores the gold medal-winning goal in overtime to cap what had been a fairly lackluster tournament by his standards.
  3. When you're outvoted and a board action doesn't go your way, continue to act in the best interests of the organization and don't become a distraction.  Learn from Yevgeny Plushenko.  Evan Lysacek wins gold.  Plushenko wins silver, criticizes Lysacek for not including a quad, and (briefly) steps on the winner's podium.  Stay classy, Yevgeny.
  4. Put your private interests aside if they will hurt the organization's best interests.  Learn from Lee Ho-Suk.  South Korea was poised to sweep the medals in the 1,500m short-track race, but on the last turn, in a foolish attempt to move to second, Lee cut off his own countryman and both fell to the ice out of the running.
  5. Be careful when delegating responsibilities and relying on another person's information.  Learn from Sven Kramer.  Kramer, the pre-race favorite, was on pace to Olympic gold in the 10,000m speedskating race but was disqualified when his coach sent him to the wrong lane on a changeover.
  6. When faced with terrible adversity, keep your eyes focused on best furthering the organization's mission.  Learn from Joannie Rochette.  Canada's Rochette skates to win a bronze medal in the strongest field ever, only days after her mother died from a sudden heart attack at age 55.
  7. Correct past mistakes and treat them with humor.  Learn from Vancouver.  With a wink to the mechanical glitch at the opening ceremonies that prevented one of the four pillars to rise and complete the lighting of the torch, the closing ceremonies started with a mime-electrician there to correct the mechanical failure.