Dear Mr. Lochte:
I have spent more than 50 years studying the behavior of leaders and more than 30 years coaching leaders around the world. I believe that we are all capable of screwing up given a perfect storm of circumstances — we’re human. It’s what we do afterwards that defines us.
I’ll get straight to the point. With regard to your reputation―your brand―you basically have two options.
Option number one: I’ll call this the Donald option. Go along with the advice of the handlers who are crafting these dazzling explanations of how boys will be boys, and how easy it is to get caught up in the excitement of being so exceptional, but now, after reflecting on your actions, you realize you should try to act like your handlers think (albeit wrongly) a decent person might act by offering a long-distance apology and perhaps tying in a reality show twist. Outcome: your brand as a champion will be forever tarnished and you will become the enduring example of what it means to be an ugly American.
Option number two: I’ll call this the Phoenix Rising option. Cut the crap. Get on the next plane back to Rio and face the charge. Pay the fine and go a step further; offer to dedicate the next three months of your life to helping underprivileged kids. Teach them to swim, teach them anything worthwhile. Give talks to young people in Rio about the importance of owning one’s mistakes and doing everything possible to set things right — to give more than lip service to character — to give of yourself in the service of character. Be an example―one that you can be proud of years from now. Outcome: people believe in the power of redemption and transformation, but they must believe you are willing to fight for it. You will become a living example of learning and growing from one’s mistakes. You will have a sense of credibility you have never known. Your story will be an inspiration to young people all over the world — young people who will see that there is a chance for them. You will become a true champion and your brand will extend far beyond athletics.
Like it or not, you are a part of sporting history. Don’t become a footnote with the likes of Tonya Harding.
We become the choices we make in life, Mr. Lochte. Choose well.