Posted on 18th Nov 2014

I was watching a cooking programme on TV recently and one of the contestants finished early. He then went across to another competitor and helped her to plate her food. She had been known for untidy plating and, as a consequence of her competitor's assistance, the judges were confused and couldn't tell whose was whose. The assisting chef won the challenge, but by helping the other chef he took a risk. 

Stirling Moss tells the story of the great Fangio driving in number 1 position with him in number 2 while racing in Sweden. Moss noticed that Fangio was making hand signals that helped him to choose the best racing line as they both competed. Even in competition the world's greatest driver had the instinct to teach.

One of my favourite stories of recent years involved two competitors in a cross-country running race in Navarra Spain last year. Ivan Fernandez Anaya was in second place to the Kenyan athlete Abel Mutai. Suddenly Mutai stopped running, having mistaken the finish line as being 10 metres sooner. People were shouting at him, trying to urge him on, but he didn't speak Spanish so couldn't understand. Anaya had a chance to take the race, but he didn't. Instead he pushed Mutai on ahead of him so he passed the finish line first. He explained:

"I didn't deserve to win it. I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn't have closed if he hadn't made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn't going to pass him."

This quality of greatness, the willingness to help others even though there's nothing in it for you - or more so at your own cost - is one of the qualities of excellent teamwork. In each of these cases, even though it's probably not why they did it, the reputations of each of the professionals is enhanced. Imagine a culture in which that was the norm.

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