3 business lessons from Olympic athletes

For thousands of athletes around the world, the road to the Rio 2016 Olympics has demanded four years of dedication, hard work and suffering. In the UK, I have been supporting Team GB coaches in rowing, diving and Paralympic target shooting as they have led teams of Olympic athletes hoping for gold-medal glory in the coming weeks.

Working with Olympic sports coaches offers valuable lessons for those of us leading businesses. Here is my “triathlon” of tips:

1. Adopt the “ready, fire, aim” mentality

Typically, I find that the Olympic sports culture encourages action rather than reflection. Ruthless competition, immovable deadlines and in-depth performance measurement drive a “ready, fire, aim” mentality rather than the “ready, aim, aim…” procrastination that’s prevalent in some aspects of the business world. You may be deliberating and weighing risks on a key business decision, but have you also weighed the risk of making no decision at all? If in doubt, jump!

3. Be resilient

I worked with a sports coach who was sacked after a disastrous World Cup performance by the national team. I spoke with the coach three days after he was let go and was surprised to find him in a strangely upbeat mood. I asked him how he’d dealt with such a huge blow and he replied, “John, you’ve got to remember that job did not define who I am.” It was a great example of how elite sports professionals build resilience and make a friend of failure in a way I do not experience as often with the CEOs I coach. As the Vistage saying goes, “Before you were a CEO, you were a human being.” It helps to remember this when things go wrong.

3. Celebrate success

Recently, I listened to a Vistage speaker, Dr. Michael Canic, ask the question, “Has anyone ever looked back on their business career and concluded they celebrated too much?” It was a great question and reminded me that the best thing about gold medals is that they are “gold,” they are “medals” and they are presented on a podium in front of thousands of people. What is your equivalent of a gold medal? And what will you do to celebrate when you win that medal? For most business leaders, having a “gold medal attitude” when it comes to goal setting and celebrating success is an untapped opportunity.

So when you are screaming at your TV screens as your national heroes and heroines stretch every sinew to get over the line, remember that behind the glitz and glamour of Rio is four years of blood, sweat and tears. To paraphrase Thomas Edison, genius in sport, like genius in business, is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. But by taking decisive action and building personal resilience, we will get one step closer to achieving our own gold medal performance. And when you hit that goal, please don’t forget to find a podium, wave your hands to the crowd, book a long holiday and celebrate in style!

Category: Leadership


About the Author: John Blakey

John Blakey co-authored the highly acclaimed book 'Challenging Coaching'? with Ian Day. In 2016, he followed up with 'The Trusted Executive'; a timely challenge to the business community inspired by his prize-winning doctoral research at Ast…

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