“A little circle of trust.” You may remember this line from the popular movie, “Meet the Parents.” It is used to describe a wedding ring. The symbolism is that the individuals involved are encircled within a trusting relationship, with no beginning and no end.
Organizations and brands are expressions of a much larger, but just as important, circle of trust. When this trust is broken, many more people are affected. The ripple effect of the loss of this trust reaches people in obvious ways, and through extension, many more people in less obvious, but equally serious ways.
One recent and especially painful example of this is the events with Lance Armstrong, and their impact on his brand and the Live Strong ethic and programs. Lance is not the only, but only the most recent, icon to fall amidst charges of “serial cheating.” The trail of destruction begins with Lance himself. Recently, in a television interview, his confidence seemed superficial, and his body language showed him hiding his face behind his hand as he spoke.
We can view Lance himself as a victim in the loss of engagement and trust, through the mishandling of his talents, and the loss of a tremendous opportunity to make a lasting, positive impact in the world. He was robbed through his actions of the opportunity to know what he could truly have accomplished on his own, something so important to each of us.
Even more sadly, all the opportunity for good Lance created through his brand is at risk, as well. Live Strong, the symbol of his achievement and his overcoming of all odds in the face of illness, and those who most desperately depend on his inspiring story, are at risk. Financially, it is disastrous, but in human cost, even more so. In addition to his family, friends, business associates, and fans, other brands that depended on the promise of Live Strong and Lance’s talents are affected. These brands include those who sponsored Lance, and many others that were influenced by his fame, spirit, and the markets that were enhanced because of them.
We must not overlook the Tour de France event and organization, and the sport itself, that have been forever changed. Certainly, other participants will be affected by the response of the organization to these developments. Then, there are the contenders in the races Lance won. Those who trained with him, raced with him, and were inspired by him. Several individuals lost the opportunity to win the Tour de France fairly, and without scandal, because Lance’s actions stole that opportunity from them.
What does this say about engagement, trust, and the ability to make a difference? Clearly, trust and engagement are inseparable. Engagement thrives in an environment of trust, and can be destroyed when trust is absent or broken. This story reminds us, like so many stories before it, that each of us can make an impact. Even if we are not famous athletes, the impact of what we do reaches those closest to us, and others we may not consider in our actions. It has been said, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito in the room!” Although it is an extreme example, this joke certainly holds true.
As we follow the story of Lance Armstrong, we do still seek to Live Strong. Perhaps this is the opportunity for redemption and benefit for all of us from his experience. We must rededicate ourselves to making good choices, remembering that what is built over a lifetime can be lost in a moment. We can consider our family, friends, colleagues, and our personal brand, as well as our corporate brand. What good can it do? What is its impact? Who is affected? How can we show trust and engagement, and encourage these qualities in others? How can we take this opportunity to ensure that our brand “Lives Strong?”