The Olympics & Leadership

Summertime in the US is one of my favorites and in an Olympic year I love it even more. It’s hard not to be inspired by all the amazing athletes in so many countries. When I was young, I had a dream that maybe I too could be an Olympic athlete. I loved gymnastics but never managed to be able to do back hand springs, kips on the uneven bars, nor could I do anything but a squat on the vault. I loved soccer, but as the only 100 pound nothing little girl on my all boys soccer team, I didn’t even know that might be a possibility. Not to mention that I had asthma before inhalers were invented so at times I had some trouble there. But that never dampened my love of sport and the grit and effort that goes into being an accomplished athlete, perhaps this is why I love being a triathlete. I call it my very own personal Olympics and I always have such gratitude about what my body can do.

What does my love of sport have to do with leadership? It’s that grit and determination that one can get from sport that translates to business. The ability to fall down in a heap, get up, dust yourself off and try again. It’s the resilience we are so inspired by in these athletes that we can learn from. The drive to do the very best you can and know that sometimes it’s not enough but to not let that deter you from trying again.

Here are some leadership tips from my beloved athletic endeavors:

1. The Only Girl on the Soccer Team: I liked to call myself scrappy because I wasn’t very big and I was a pretty easy target to slide tackle. This taught me to be tough and to have confidence about my position (right wing). If you believe yourself to be strong, and determined then that’s exactly what you will be. If your idea is innovative or different, know that this is part of the reason that you are a leader. Embrace that element of yourself.

2. The back hand spring: I was scared just about every time I tried to do this move. I had someone spot me and I still fell a gazillion times. Eventually I decided that I was going to do the best with the skills I could do and not worry about what I couldn’t do or compare myself to girls who were better. Everyone is going to be better than you in something. Take this opportunity to learn from them and perhaps even be inspired.

3. Rock Climbing: I fell in love with rock climbing when I moved to New Mexico and I was fortunate to meet a woman who was not only an amazingly accomplished guide, but who, to this day, is one of my closest friends. When you climb, you need to not only be prudent but you must have trust in yourself, your equipment and your partners because not paying attention can kill you. As a leader, can you trust the people that work closest to you? Have you inspired their trust in you? Without having this element, your leadership will be flawed.

4. Triathlon: A manager I worked with told me about doing a triathlon and I was so inspired, I thought that I could never do that and then I changed my mind. Why not? Grit and positivity are my greatest strengths as a triathlete. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in races but always made it to the finish line with a smile. As a leader, it’s important to be humble and appreciate the work that had to be done to get you where you are. Try never to forget your good fortune to be in such a position and use this as a positive example to others.

5. The Olympics: I have a friend to teases me about my love of the Olympics. I can even tear up just talking about it. There are so many great moments like gymnast Laurie Hernandez saying “I got this” to herself before her floor exercise and then there are the moments like watching Dutch cyclist Annemiek Van Vleuten crash hard (hurt but okay) while she was in the lead in the women’s bike race. For all of these moments, I say, trust in yourself and in your preparation. Don’t second guess and do your best to give it your all.

You don’t have to be a competitive athlete to use the mental tools of athletes for your leadership and business. Know that a strong and resilient mindset will be transformative in leadership success.   Two books I really enjoy on this topic is Elite Minds: Creating the Competitive Advantage by Dr. Stan Beecham and On the Edge: Leadership Lessons from Mount Everest and Other Extreme Environments by Alison Levine.

If you haven’t seen any of the Olympics yet, I encourage you to turn it on and watch a little bit of any sport. Appreciate the stories of the athletes that made it there and let that inspire your leadership in some small way.

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