Muhammad Ali fought exclusively upright for over a decade before his nemesis, Joe Frazier, finally knocked him down in the 15th round of their famous fight at Madison Square Garden in 1971. By the time he hit the ground, Ali was behind on points and unlikely to win the match. Instead of staying down, Ali struggled to find his feet and then regained his stance and continued the fight.
When asked after the loss why he had gotten up when the fight was all but over, Ali responded, “The first thing I heard was ‘eight.’ The first thing I thought was, ‘I don’t belong here.’” He finished the fight because of the pride he had in himself. He had the heart of a champion. True champions don’t belong on the ground.
At times, pride can blind us from hearing important feedback, make us feel self-important, and prevent us from learning the lessons we must. But pride allows the best leaders to fight through setbacks to which others succumb. Being a prideful leader requires us to know who we are and who we are not. When used as a shield, pride prevents us from being great. When used as a badge of honor, pride encourages us to stand up for who we want to be, even when it is hard to do so.
Like all great champions, Ali knew pride was a sword that could propel him to success. Knowing how to wield pride makes all the difference.