05/18/2012 05:42 pm ET Updated Jul 18, 2012

A Lesson in Ethics From the Olympic Games

We each have our own favorite memories from the Olympic Games -- whether it be Jessie Owens demonstrating the absurdity of Adolf Hitler's racist notions, gymnast Nadia Comaneci's perfect "10"s, Kerri Strugg's valiant vault on a sprained ankle to win gold or Michael Phelps' eight gold medals. This summer the world can once again look forward to breathtaking athleticism and triumphant and emotional moments that can only come from the collective shared global experience that are the Olympic Games.

More than an example of global cooperation, athletic excellence, courage and determination, the Olympic Games have brought us one of the greatest demonstration of ethics and integrity, when, in 1964, Italian bobsled driver Eugenio Monti was faced with the choice between doing what was expected or doing what he knew was right.

When the Winter Olympic Games opened that year in Innsbruck, Austria, the favorites in the four-man bobsled were the Austrians and the Italians. But in the first heat, Canada broke the Olympic record and posted a substantial lead. During that record-breaking run, however, they damaged the axle on their sled. Facing disqualification, Team Canada reached the top of the track to find its sled upside down. Monti had instructed his mechanics to fix it. Canada went on to win the gold medal.

Later in the same games, Italy was again favored in the two-man bobsled event. Great Britain recorded the fastest time after their first run. However, similarly to the earlier incident, their sled was damaged -- a bolt attaching the runners to the sled had sheared off. Monti completed his run and had the needed bolt removed from his own sled and attached to the British bob. Great Britain took home the gold.

Returning home, Monti was lauded by some and vilified by others. His response was simple: "Nash didn't win because I gave him the bolt. He won because he had the fastest run."

Four years later Monti brought home gold medals in both the two-man and four-man bobsled events, yet his place in Olympic history ought to be defined not by those wins -- but by the way he played the game. Monti understood that doing well and doing right are intertwined, even when it is not required or expected (or even understood).

Every day organizations make decisions like the one Monti faced -- do what is required by law (or convention) or dare to demonstrate the courage and true leadership by going above and beyond. It is a strategic decision because it defines who they are.

From a strategic perspective, businesses can forgo the "quick" or "easy" wins or they can rise to the level of true leadership recognizing that an organization's reputation is derived from its behavior, not its words. And while cynics will say that public relations is nothing more than putting organizations in their best possible light, corporate leaders are realizing that in going the extra step, and engaging in transparency, openness and disclosure, they reveal the true character of their organization. Like Eugenio Monti, organizations that allow this model will find that they win not only on the playing field, but the hearts and minds of their customers and stakeholders as well.

After all, just ask yourself ...

  • For whom would you rather work or have your loved ones work?
  • From whom would you rather purchase?
  • Whom would you welcome into your town?