The Olympic Opportunity for Managers

on August 28, 2012
Manager Development

I’ve just returned from a once-in-a-lifetime experience – the Olympic Games in my home country of Great Britain, and I’m still buzzing with pride, emotion, and an unforgettable feeling of goodwill and bonhomie towards, well, everyone! It sounds corny, but it was truly exhilarating to be part of the Olympic movement as a spectator and cheerleader for Team GB, the USA (my adopted home) and all the competitors from across the globe for whom participating was a triumph in itself – Oscar Pistorius, the first double-leg amputee, who ran in the 400m; the women from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei, making this the first Olympics in which every national team included a woman, and hundreds of very ordinary people-come-athletes who practiced and nurtured their talent to compete and celebrate on the Olympic stage.

Behind all the powerhouse performances, personalities, pomp, pyrotechnics (and thankfully rare precipitation), there were many lessons and bright spots, and two struck me as particularly apposite for managers and leaders.

The power of connecting people to something big and wonderful and meaningful:

For three marvelous weeks London and the Olympic venues became a melting pot where everyone, from the peoples of warring nations to celebrities, from indifferent citizens to royalty, came together to have fun and celebrate sporting progress and achievement. I don’t ordinarily follow sports and I am no athlete, but I was uniquely and powerfully engaged because I felt part of something bigger than myself. I didn’t just watch a handball game between Russia and Croatia, or get up at 4am in the morning to queue with 200,000 others to cheer the triathIetes around Hyde Park; I was part of the Olympics, a 100+ year institution! This is an insight that managers and leaders can draw upon. To engage your teams, ensure that your people feel connected to a bigger goal or purpose. It’s amazing how energizing it can be as an individual to feel this sense of connectivity and belonging.

The importance of practice to perfect performance:

It’s kind of obvious in the context of sport (or music, or in medical fields), but much less obvious when it comes to managing people. Many (most) of the athletes at the Olympics have dedicated their lives to their sport and practice continually to reach the games. Although we spend the majority of our lives at work, many of us do just go through the motions and expect to gradually improve as we gain experience. Gaining experience is very different from deliberate practice. Managing people to achieve results is a complex and tricky business, and to be good at it takes work. Next time you are having a so-so meeting with someone on your team or struggling to complete a task/project, take some time to think about your leadership skill set, set some goals, and create a plan to work on those skills. Gold medals don’t come overnight and neither does being a great manager.

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