Five Lessons From Lance Armstrong’s Failure

Lance Armstrong“I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologize to people.”

Lance Armstrong made that statement to Oprah Winfrey in his public confession this week when he finally admitted to using illegal performance enhancing drugs. It’s the one statement that has stuck with me as I’ve tried to make sense of how and why someone would go to such great lengths to perpetuate a lie and intentionally deceive so many people.

Millions of people have admired Armstrong as an example of how to “Livestrong” and battle through life’s difficult circumstances. Oddly enough, even though his athletic success and personal brand image have been discovered to be a fraud, he’s still proving to be an example from whom we can learn.

Armstrong’s fall from grace offers some important life and leadership lessons:

1. Life’s not about you – Armstrong described himself as a narcissist and said it was his ruthless desire to win at all costs that drove him to be a cheater. I don’t know that I’ve witnessed a public character with such an intense self drive and singular focus (with the possible exception of Tiger Woods, and look at what happened to him) that caused him to be so egotistical and selfish. The joy of life is unleashed when we discover that true happiness comes from serving others and not ourselves.

2. Bullies eventually get what’s coming to them – A self-described bully, Armstrong vehemently condemned and intimidated anyone who stood in his way to success. He burned so many relationships on his way up, that now he finds himself alone in his shame on the way down.

3. If you’re going to say you’re sorry, you should actually be sorry – Several times Armstrong said that he was sorry and took full blame and responsibility for his actions, yet based on other comments he made and the unspoken words of his body language, he left me with the impression that he wasn’t truly remorseful for defrauding everyone. He was apologizing for the sake of apologizing, recognizing that it was the necessary first step in rebuilding his image.

4. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is – Armstrong’s comeback from cancer, Tour de France victories, and life as an anti-cancer crusader seemed to be the perfect tale. He admitted to Oprah that he had devised such a fantastical narrative that it was impossible to live up to the idealistic standards he created. And millions upon millions of people bought it – hook, line, and sinker. Everyone single one of us has our faults and it’s extremely dangerous to place anyone on a pedestal as the end-all be-all example we should follow.

5. The truth will set you free – Oprah closed the interview by telling Armstrong it was her hope that he would find “the truth will set you free.” Jesus spoke those words in reference to people who choose to follow his teachings (John 8:32), meaning they would find the freedom and protection that comes from adhering to His moral principles. We all need a moral compass that keeps us oriented to true north, and Armstrong is an example of what happens when you lead without morality.

Lance Armstrong has a long way to go to rebuild trust with his followers. Is it even possible given the scope of his willful deception? I think it’s going to be hard.

What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

About Randy Conley

Randy is the Vice President of Client Services & Trust Practice Leader for The Ken Blanchard Companies. He works with clients around the globe helping them design & deliver training and consulting solutions that build trust in the workplace and oversees Blanchard's client delivery operations. He has been named a Top 100 Thought Leader in Trustworthy Business Behavior by Trust Across America. Randy holds a Masters Degree in Executive Leadership from the University of San Diego and enjoys spending time with his family, bike riding, and playing golf. You can follow Randy on Twitter @RandyConley where he shares thoughts on leadership and trust.
This entry was posted in Apology, Deception, Forgiveness, Honesty, Integrity, Leadership, Narcissism, Repairing Trust, Trust. Bookmark the permalink.

48 Responses to Five Lessons From Lance Armstrong’s Failure

  1. Eric says:

    Very well put. I would hope as he seeks forgiveness from
    God and his own former and current fans he allows God be the lead
    in his life. Young athletes will be watching Lances steps going
    forward in a diff way.

  2. Baroness says:

    I think he will pull through. It’s a process. He needs
    family and friends who have understanding. Maybe people wanted to
    see tears to sure he’s remorsefull, I saw strength and will of
    character to rise above his failures….#livestrong!

  3. Jamie says:

    I think you nailed it, Randy! Especially point #3. I agree with you that he didn’t seem sorry at all. In my opinion he has a very long road to recovery…longer than the Tour de France!

  4. Mahesh says:

    When I was in school, we had this incredible chapter in
    book called “The Ultimate Defeat of Great People” The chapter
    revolve around the concept of after the death of Great Person, how
    his principles, thinking gets misinterpreted by followers. How the
    followers go entirely in different direction with their
    misconception of their leaders vision. And how they actualy end up
    betrying the true vision, beliefs of their leader. How the
    followers completely ignore or hide the things, mistakes of their
    leader so that they could make him a true legend, a hero, a God.But
    they forget those mistakes actualy made him human, vulnerable.
    After all, he was a human, he was bound to make mistakes. In fact
    that’s why he became great. The ultimate defeat of great person is
    this that his followers end up following non existent wrong path
    after his death for generations. And saddest part is the great
    person can’t back from dead to tell his disciples how they are
    doing all wrong. I think, for Lance, its his virtual death of all
    those things morale, beliefs ,everything. As he betrayed all those
    who believed in him but this is the great chance that he could be
    the one who actually turn it around, if he can prove his real self
    worth. This could be the example of where his followers will get to
    see him reborn from the ultimate failure Only if he could perform
    and give his best. Collecting all these broken pieces for creating
    the masterpiece. There’s going to be only 2 sides, either he will
    fall or he will rise. But right now look what kind of message has
    been sent to the generation. That performance enhancing drugs is
    the only way excel in life. I loved all of your points specially
    the Life’s Not about You. May be you should add, Spidey’s lesson
    too. “With Great Power comes Great responsibilty” One needs to be
    very careful about what kind of example we are setting in front
    millions of people, when they look up to you as their
    hero.

    • Randy Conley says:

      Thank you for the insightful comments Mahesh. The admonition of “Great power comes with great responsibility” is an excellent addition to this list. Let’s hope that much good comes from this.

      Best regards,

      Randy

  5. I am currently writing a blog on Lance Armstrong as well as
    I am sure many are. My focus is on perception. Specifically, how
    perception drives us and with that drive, how we can make anything
    happen. Good or bad. Although this is a bad example, it sure drives
    the point home :)

    • Randy Conley says:

      Perception plays a huge part in this whole saga! Armstrong created a perception of him being an almost mythic, heroic figure before the truth came out. Now he is in a battle to create an entirely new perception. Perhaps that of the fallen hero who achieves redemption? We shall see…

      I look forward to reading your blog.

      Randy

  6. Great discussion and points. In thinking about the lessons learned for us, for me, it seems to center on the opportunity to embrace truth actively and build a different storyline. It would have been much different for Lance to ride without doping and lead with integrity in cleaning up the sport. It may not have resulted in seven wins, but it would have resulted in a different culture and a better outcome in so many ways.

    We have a choice in how to really lead with trust or just give platitudes to it. Choosing to embrace it creates a better life and leadership story.

    Thanks, Randy!

    Jon

    • Randy Conley says:

      You are absolutely right Jon. There is a huge difference in living your life just trying to get by through not lying, cheating, etc., versus living a life of actively and intentionally building trust….being a “trust activist” as you call it.

      Thanks for adding your perspective.

      Randy

  7. sportfitnow says:

    Nothing is unforgivable. The burden is shared between the
    accused and the abused. Well being comes from the admission of
    guilt and the acceptance of freedom of that same guilt.

    • Randy Conley says:

      Thanks for your comments Paul. Hopefully Armstrong and those he personally hurt will be able to experience freedom through forgiveness at some point in this process.

      Randy

  8. mark olivito says:

    You know an apology interview doesn’t go well when your
    wondering if you feel that 50%+ of the interview was adding to the
    mounds of lies! One of the great collapses from greatness in sports
    history. Integrity matters.

    • Randy Conley says:

      Good point Mark! Whenever Armstrong said that some accusation against him wasn’t true, I found myself thinking “Why should I believe you?”

      Integrity ALWAYS matters!

      Randy

  9. Stefan says:

    I’ve Followed Lance for years and although very
    disappointed by what has played out over the last few days, I still
    wear my “Livestrong” bracelet, shirts, jackets etc proudly, for my
    friends, colleagues, family members and the Millions of people
    around the World who Battle Cancer or who have lost their battle.
    Its bigger than Lance, bigger than one man, but I thank him for
    what he started and I hope people see past the disappointment of
    what he’s done and remember there’s a Foundation HE started, that a
    lot of people rely on. Lets separate the two, because those people
    at Livestrong who turn up every day to battle a deadly disease
    don’t deserve to be tarnished with the same brush, they have their
    own Race to win. I truly hope Lance finds peace within himself.
    Stefan Auckland NZ

  10. Armstrong does not feel guilty because he believed very
    strongly his means were fair to win because winning is all that
    mattered. His apologies does not mean he is sorry, but that us the
    right means to deal with his current situatio.

  11. Great Write up Randy…this is a must read for all such Managers & Leaders across all walks of life….on how fragile the topic of TRUST & Ethical practices remain…be it personal OR professional fronts….MP.

  12. Pingback: “Five Lessons” From Lance Armstrong’s Failure | Randy Conley | Murali Prasanna

  13. L_D says:

    I had the exact same sentence from that interview in my head- “I would have to apologize for the rest of my life” HECTIC!

    But he wasn’t 100% true, some vagueness on issues like who they sued. You would still know who your enemies are especially former teammates wifes’ that openly attacked you.

    Secondly , why would he race 100% clean in the comeback tours? He saw EPO in the same category as putting air in your tyres and water in your bottle. Added to this that his biological passport contradicts this statement for the comeback??

    I still love Lance but he is unfortunately not coming clean from all of the detail. His credibility will be in the detail and not in a general apology.

    • Randy Conley says:

      Thanks for your perspective Lucas. I agree that there was a lot of “fuzziness” in some of his answers. There were several times when he smirked, smiled, and his eyes lit up that showed he was proud of his ability to avoid being caught and the ruthlessness he exhibited in achieving his goals.

      Randy

  14. Denise Bailey says:

    Great article and I would say the best I have read re Lance Armstrong. How do you become authentic any time soon after a decade of a new level of deception that I have ever seen. I do pray that “the Truth will set him free”. My personal opinion is unless Lance Armstrong surrenders to God and a servant approach he will have a challenging road ahead, I wish Lance “the Lord is his Shepherd and He will lead Lance to green pastures if Lance is willing.

    • Randy Conley says:

      Thanks for your comments Denise. Let’s hope there is good that comes from this.

      Randy

      • Denise Bailey says:

        Thank you Randy for being so kind to respond to everyone. I do not like to think the worse though I also could see pride and I felt he thought he was smarter than anyone else.
        Kind regards. Denise

      • Randy Conley says:

        Hi Denise. Strictly from an observational perspective I found it was really interesting to see the way he communicated through his body language, what he said, and what he chose NOT to say. I wouldn’t doubt if we saw news headlines in the next few months that say Armstrong has sold the rights to a movie about his life story for some big $$.

        Randy

  15. James M. says:

    It will take a very long time for The Lance to be trusted again. He may end up like Peter Rose, who had a long fall from grace due to betting on his own team. Peter will NEVER be back in Baseball and Lance may NEVER be back to any bicycling type sport. Maybe he can resolve this by becoming the Cleanest ‘coach’ out there. He had Chris Carmichael to help him get to the top, maybe it is time he helps the those he can rise to victory, but without the PEDs. I doubt he will ever have the trust of his ‘loyal’ fan base, ever again.

  16. james duthie says:

    given that he must be about as popular as the child-catcher in the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang film he must be able to get some positive momentum … surley??

  17. Tom Manos says:

    In 1996, I was just getting into cycling and was so inspired by Lance’s story that I wrote him a letter to encourage him to fight on in the face of adversity. His rapid recovery and dominance of the sport were amazing to me, and I was inspired. That was then, and then the rumors began, and I wondered how he could be clean when everyone of his major rivals was implicated for using PEDs. Today, my daughter and son, who are both athletes aged 15 and 14, and I have discussed this entire situation as it has played out. They have both said that, if an athlete needs to use drugs and cheat to win, then they would rather be clean and not stand on a podium, win a trophy, or get recognition. If they win, they will win by being clean. They have a healthy perspective and balanced lives by staying focused on being good students, participating in competitive sports, and being active in our community. We can’t do anything about the past, however, we can change the future by instilling in our children the values of honesty and integrity in everything they do. While I believe what he did for his foundation is great and admirable, I think Lance has had enough air time…

    • Randy Conley says:

      Excellent points Tom! I think you’re handling it the best way possible. Hopefully this situation provides a teaching point for all parents to discuss the values of integrity and sportsmanship with their children. Kudos to you!

      Take care,

      Randy

  18. Jim Cota says:

    Mark Olivito makes the only point that really matters and the lesson we should be teaching our children more than any other: live and act with integrity. In the end, everything that people remember about will begin with this essential trait.

    • Randy Conley says:

      Thank you Jim. At the end of the day a person’s integrity is all that they will have left. Hopefully Armstrong will be able to regain some of what he’s lost.

      Take care,

      Randy

  19. Lance Armstrong created a mythical figure, and then found that he couldn’t live up to it. After decades of ideas like “fake it ’til you make it” and being told to reach for the stars [but they never quite tell you how to deal with landing in the dirt], he chose what for him was the only way to achieve that mythic success. His failure points out the flaws of the system and the flaws of his own moral perspective, now he has to deal with being just a man and redefine living strong. Pete Rose did it and Tiger Woods is trying to do it, we’ll see how Lance handles it.

    IMNSHO, FWIIW

    • Randy Conley says:

      Hi Carol. You’re right that he created an almost mythical persona, and he even admitted to having a feeling of invincibility. I think this situation is the perfect illustration of the old adage “The bigger they are the harder they fall.”

      Take care,

      Randy

  20. I think the biggest lesson here for our youth is: the more you cheat and deceive others – the easier it becomes, the deeper you get, and before long you can’t see the light because the hole is too deep. Another lesson here is that our first decisions are sometimes our MOST IMPORTANT ones. People don’t realize that their first lie or false statement will snowball right before their own eyes, unless they are TRUE to themselves and admit their mistakes early rather THAN LATER. By the time LATER comes along, IT’S TOO LATE. How does that biblical phrase go? YOU REAP WHAT YOU SEW!!! Lance has definitely reaped his own future, now he has to walk through it’s barren fields. I certainly hope that he or one of his close friends kept one of the GOOD SEEDS and plants it soon for him. Then, we’ll just need a plethora of rain (which will be provided by Lance’s personal and genuine tears).

    • Randy Conley says:

      I appreciate your comments Jim. I think the “reap what you sow” principle is evident in this case. There’s never a right time to do the wrong thing and if we, and our kids, can remember that truth we’d all be a lot better off, wouldn’t we?

      Randy

      • That’s just it Randy. Almost everyone (including our children) know the difference between right and wrong, yet some still choose to ignore righteousness (if they feel they can’t get caught). In Lance’s case, he knew he couldn’t be caught due to the quality of testing at the time – so he chose to ignore the rules. What bothers me most about Lance’s choice is that he didn’t think twice about how his actions would affect others or he just didn’t care at all. And this I pretty sad, seeing that a lot of these innocent people were his teammates and his competitors.

  21. Great article Randy! I believe we ought to look at Lance as a mirror for ourselves. We all know that he lied and that is certainly not good, but reality is we all fail or do wrong. When we fail, are we willing to humble ourselves and do our best to restore the damage? I admire Lance for his willingness to restore back trust. It is a courageous act to confess in public, I respect him for that.

    • Randy Conley says:

      Excellent point Sam. I’ve been considering a follow up article titled “I am Lance Armstrong and So Are You” because we all experience instances where we make bad decisions and need to repair the damage.

      Thanks for your input!

      Randy

      • Randy, I am looking forward reading that. I am really inspired by your articles, they really add value. Feel free to read my thoughts as well on my recently launched site which promotes sharing leadership thoughts.

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