What The Olympics Can Express About Leadership
As the 2012 London Games recently came to a close, there were many emotions pouring in. Those of triumph, pride and heartbreak. Triumph, for those athletes who have put in the hours of training year after year for a satisfying denouement of gold and country together as one. Pride, for every athlete and fan representing their country. And heartbreak for those athletes who fell just short of their dream of standing on the medal platform.
It was only two weeks, but there was enough devotion and leadership shining throughout those two weeks to make a case beyond just the Olympics. All the egos and me-first attitudes were seemingly eradicated in place of team and individual passion for their country. A devotion that should be carried further beyond as a symbol for more than just national pride.
“The thing you learn from sports - setting goals, being part of a team, confidence - that’s invaluable. It’s not about trophies and ribbons. It’s about being on time for practice, accepting challenges and being fearful of the elements.” - Summer Sanders, 1992 gold medalist in swimming
Put simply, there is an analogy for nearly everything, and this one is no different. As it relates to leaders in the business industry, companies should be able to pry away a few thoughts and mantras on how not just this quote, but the Olympic spirit as a whole can be a model for success and leadership skills.
Let’s look at it from a perspective of Olympic determination from specific stories and square it to leadership goals to reach for or hone to perfection.
True Grit For The Long Haul
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh proved yet again that through great conditioning, athleticism and exemplary trust in each other, they took gold in women’s beach volleyball for a remarkable third consecutive Olympics. Twelve years of skill and passion for the sport, their nation and team play.
How this relates to business is simple, really. It’s about all the hard work and determination in your coworker for the long journey ahead to push through complicated projects and deadlines by believing in your team instead of trying to steal the limelight from each other. Leaders aren’t just created overnight, nor are they always one person.
Proving It’s Never Too Late
Overcoming the hurdles and missed-chances that seemed to follow your entire career.
Playing for the hopes and dreams of a nation during the professional circuit, while actually winning for his country on the Olympic stage.
This was the story of Andy Murray and his triumphant journey of winning gold in men’s tennis. And he did so by defeating a man, Roger Federer, who’s been a proven winner and true leader, both with the class of his professional career and personal story as well. But what truly makes Andy Murray’s triumph so special is that he did so against the backdrop of so much anguish and heartache in trying to become the first player from Great Britain to hoist the Wimbeldon trophy since Fred Perry back in 1936. What Murray did was show that hard work is rewarded, whether it is in the short-term or much later on.
Putting that mantra into the business world, there are many examples of how leadership and the will to succeed have become a reality. There is Dominos Pizza’s genuine approach to sustaining and innovating their business. What was once a long battle for relevance turned to triumph when they approached customers with an apology for their underwhelming pizza and general feedback. They not only changed their recipes for the better, but rolled out new features online, gave consumers a channel via Twitter to share their experiences, whether good or bad, and just plain had a solid marketing plan in place.
And somewhere in there was a leader or two or three pushing onward and changing the game with an honest approach that began with a simple apology and took off from there.
It’s How You Carry Yourself For Those Who Lean On You
Leaders are born and judged with how they inspire the team around them. They push through adversity without doubting themselves and knowing they have more than just themselves to consider. A company will only go as far as the team assembled around it and with assured leadership at the helm. And in the case of this Olympics, one story stuck out to me.
He was one of many stars comprising the US men’s 4X400 relay and during the preliminaries, Mitchell broke his leg in stride and rather than do what almost any person would do in that situation —which is slow to a crawl or halt altogether in pain. He ran over 200 meters more until his end of the deal was sealed. Without that extra grit to finish, the men’s team would not have had a spot in the final race to begin with. And during those finals, the men’s team went on to place for silver and although Mitchell was on the sidelines, his will to push beyond the pain for the greater good was reflective of his devotion to not letting his team down.
He was a leader among many others on the team, knowing that the unity and integrity of their competitive spirit would grow from it —and it most certainly did as they took their spot on the platform.
Leadership within the business ranks can take a cue from this. It is the will to succeed against inadvertent hiccups. The strength to carry a team’s morale above a stalled project or difficult task ahead. And most evident, business leadership is expressing your passion and eye for the future, trusting in your staff and being there to pick them up when they may fail along the way. Because without forming a cohesive unit towards one common goal, the business model will most certainly have a tough road ahead.
Kyle O’Brien is a freelance writer and frequently covers the business industry on topics ranging from leadership training to employee motivation. He’s consulted with ej4, a performance improvement company focusing on delivering various custom elearning solutions for businesses.