8 leadership lessons we learn from Olympic athletes

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Olympic champions are the best of the best.  Their journey to the highly coveted medals is long and difficult, and requires unwavering commitment.  A few weeks ago, I listened to four-time gold medal winner Sanya Richards-Ross share her story at the Chick-fil-A leadercast. While most of us will never know what that unique accomplishment feels like, we can take away valuable leadership lessons from Olympic athletes. Whether you are a solopreneur or a corporate CEO, below are eight lessons and how they apply to business leadership.

  1. Visualize the end.  Olympic athletes have the gold in mind.  The can see it, imagine it, and feel it.  In your perfect business scenario, what does the end look like when you reach it? Define it, create a vision board, and develop your plan to reach it.
  2. Build a team you can trust.  Olympic athletes don’t do it alone.  They build a team.  As a business leader, your employees, volunteers, and your network contacts are the Olympic athletes and you are the coach. Do you trust your team?  Are you giving them the resources they need to succeed?
  3. Seek out the best and learn from them.  Olympic athletes have their heroes, those who they aspire to be.  The same works in business. Look for influencers and role models in your field.  Identify what they do really well, learn from them and model the behavior. What skills do you need to develop to get you to the next level?  Add professional development to your overall plan, and surround yourself with people who can do what you can’t.
  4. Learn from your mistakes. Making mistakes is normal. Failure happens to the best of the best.  Even Olympic gold medal winners have failed at some point.  What is important is to learn from mistakes and failures. Do not let mistakes defeat you. Embrace them and learn from them, make corrections, and use the lessons to change the future.
  5. Practice every day. Olympic athletes have a schedule that is never broken.  They become the best, in part, because of repetition.  Repeating a scenario over and over ultimately gives you a competitive advantage.  Don’t confuse this with “doing the same thing every day and never changing.” Practice doesn’t make perfect.  Purposeful practice makes perfect.  In business, practice equates to training and preparation.  Practice with a purpose by thinking about the point of execution, whether it is with a project or everyday operations. Follow a plan, go over your execution with your team and review your plans daily. How can you improve?  Seek feedback from others and make necessary changes.
  6. Warm up before an event. Every Olympic athlete warms up before an event.  Whether you are going into a meeting, giving a presentation, making a sales call, or simply starting your day, it’s important to warm up. While the warm up is different for each scenario, the benefits are the same.  A warm up puts everything into perspective, helps alleviate stress, clears the mind, helps hone your skills, and builds confidence.
  7. Exemplify the calm during times of chaos.  In the Olympic Games, outside influences can affect the event.  Sometimes it’s weather or other factors, and sadly, it has even been threats of terrorism.  In any industry, there will be times of chaos. As a business leader, you need to be the calm during times of chaos.  If you plan and prepare for chaos, it won’t destroy you.
  8. Never give up. Olympic athletes are deeply committed.  They exhibit an extreme level of discipline.  When you look behind the scenes of building a champion, you witness a determination and discipline very few can master, but a level we all should aspire to. Olympic athletes will not give up.  They visualize the end, they build a team and a plan to get them there, and they charge forward.

So what have I missed? What else can we steal from our Olympic champions and apply to business?  Share your point of view in the comments.

Photo credit: cbsnews.com

Originally posted at www.mymarketingcafe.com 6/17/13.