Watching for What’s Wrong vs Seeing What’s Right

In business and in life, it’s important to watch for what is wrong, but also remember to see what is right. Protocol professionals love to watch, read, and hear about major international events. We study them for guidance on how to do our jobs better. We learn from the mistakes and successes of others–what worked, what didn’t. As I, like millions around the world, watch the 2016 Rio Olympics, I learned a valuable lesson–“watching for what is wrong, while seeing what is right.”

It didn’t take long for the media to notice details that were wrong at this year’s Olympics, some more serious than others. Protocol professionals were also taking note, and emails with “Olympic Oops” in the subject line started making the rounds, discussing wrong flags, anthems, mispronounced names, etc.

Just before the Olympics, I attended an educational forum for protocol professionals. Bring together a hundred people whose careers have been built on focused observation of details, who specialize in seeing what is wrong and correcting it, and someone is bound to notice a few things that could be improved, even at such a meticulously planned event. And that’s exactly what happened. Throughout the event, several people, myself included, would note: foods at the buffet weren’t labeled, the hotel catering staff served from the wrong side during one lunch, there wasn’t water available on the bus…all important details, in our world. Yet this forum was also a huge success, because so many things were also done right: the buses were where they needed to be, the bus drivers knew where they were going, and volunteers had umbrellas for us when it rained. There were vegetarian options, and the catering staff asked guests whether they had any allergies. The speakers, panelists, and organizers donated their time; the program was diverse; people were friendly and generously shared their expertise and experience. There was time to catch up with dear friends and colleagues, and members raised funds for a worthwhile group, The Global Soap Project (I encourage my hotel industry clients and friends in particular, to take a look). In the end, the forum’s goal was accomplished: to provide training, information, and advice regarding internationally and nationally accepted rules of protocol.

As I watched the Parade of Nations during the Olympic opening ceremony, and some of the competitions, I noted what was wrong, so I could learn from the errors. But I also tried to see and experience all that was right: the camaraderie, the struggles to overcome incredible hardships, the new friendships among people from diverse backgrounds, the coming together of individuals trying to do their best in their various fields, the joy on so many faces, and the standing ovation and cheers given to the Refugee team. The goal of the Olympic Movement is “to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practised without discrimination or any kind, in a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” I believe we are seeing that.

As I go through my day at work and in life, I will try to remember to “watch for what is wrong, and see what is right.”

P.S. A 2016 Olympics Extra: Was There a Flag Display Mistake?

Some sharp-eyed protocol friends have been wondering this week if a flag mistake was made at the Olympics. When two or more athletes tie, winning the same medal, is it permissible to display one’s flag above the over at the medal ceremony? Because apparently, that was done, as you can see in this NBC video (2:50 min).

According to the U.S. Flag Code, when flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height. The flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace. However, some international organizations, like NATO and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), also have their own flag protocols. The Olympic tradition has been to display the gold winner’s national flag above those of the silver and bronze winners, so it is not unprecedented to see national flags at different heights in that context as seen in this video (2:45 min).

But what about a tie? Can putting one flag directly over the other possibly be in accordance with the spirit of the Olympics, when the athletes’ accomplishments were the same? All of the protocol professionals I know believe that the vertical flags displayed one on top of the other for those events that tied in the Rio Olympics should be adjusted to make the flags more equal in position. Indeed, displaying them “stacked” like this raises the question about the order in which these should be displayed–which goes first at the top…but answering that would require an even longer newsletter. While most of my colleagues prefer the horizontal display used in the Judo tie (2:40 min) for the silver, the question remains as to which country should be positioned first.

Perhaps it’s time the IOC reviewed its flag protocol.

Protocol Pointer

Evaluating and providing useful feedback regarding performance is essential so we can improve, but when we take this to a personal level–judging and critiquing individuals–it is easy to lose sight of our purpose. We must also recognize good intentions, effort, and successes.

Despite the blunders, there is much we can learn from the Olympics. We, too, can contribute to ‘building a peaceful, and better world without discrimination of any kind, in a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.’ Isn’t that how we should run our businesses and live our lives?

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