Four Leadership Lessons from the Olympics

Who else is going through Olympics withdrawal?

If you’re anything like me, you were glued to your TV for the last two weeks of last month, watching some of the best athletes in the world compete in sports as varied as Super-G to curling. And in those hours of coverage, you saw both the excitement of a great performance and the heartbreak of hopes dashed. 

And while it was fun to watch the competitions and cheer on your favorite country or new personality (Hi, Adam! Hi Chloe!), those extraordinary athletes also taught us amazing lessons that any leader can apply to their own team or organization.

1. It’s Not Just the Medal Winners Who Are Important

Many of the athletes — precisely 98.2% of them in fact — came to Pyeongchang knowing they had zero chance of winning a medal. Yet they trained to the end of their endurance, focused on the goal and brought all they could to the table… even knowing they had no hope of the eventual glory and recognition of a medal. 

How many of us have an opportunity every day when we could recognize those who may not have the “flashy” assignments or have their name on the contract closing the sale, but still play a critical role in serving our customers and contributing to the entire team’s success? 

2. It’s All About The Training

If you only watch one hockey game in your life, it should be the USA women’s hockey team vs. Canada, which ended in a thrilling overtime 3-2 shootout. The winning goal came from Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson in a move that is rarely used (only about 10 percent of hockey games ever end in a shootout) but that she estimates she has practiced more than 10,000 times. 

Creating muscle memory around a skill before you need it allows you to have success even under the worst pressure imaginable. How many leadership skills do you know you need to “work on” but just can’t find the time?  Maybe it’s time to get out on the rink so those skills are ready when you need them.

3. You Support Your Sport, Not Just Your Team

How many times have you heard someone say, “That’s not my job!”?  One of the most impressive sights I noticed repeatedly was the support that other countries’ athletes showed to one another both during the competition and after the medals were won. 

The women of the snowboard half pipe even protested a score they felt was too low for one of their competitors! Imagine if everyone in your organization supported one another regardless of project or team? What can you do to make that a reality?  

4. Accomplishment Takes Many Forms

Every day there are unsung heroes within our organizations who show up, day after day, and do the very best for their teams and their customers. Many times those everyday accomplishments — and the focus and perseverance it takes to get them done — are actually the most pivotal components of creating exceptional customer service. When we notice and recognize those “little moments,” we have an opportunity to engage and motivate the tireless workers who may not typically demand much of our attention. 

Want some inspiration? Check out this video of the last finisher of the men’s 15 km cross country event, and see what his “competitors” do to ensure he understands how important his contribution is to the sport! 

My challenge for you: What is one way you can be an Olympic leader today? Striving to do better every day is how gold medals – and organizational success – are earned.

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