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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Leadership Lessons from the Winter Olympics 2010

The 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver have already provided many wonderful stories of athletes resiliently staring hardship in the face, picking themselves up and turning in the performances of their lives.

These are the kinds of stories that fill those end-of-broadcast montages that send shivers up your spine and make you reach for the Kleenex box. Of course, those montages always include the heartbreaking near-misses and lost opportunities as well. Isn’t that what draws us so irresistibly to sport? While we know that we’ll witness extraordinary athleticism and thrilling performances, the tension created by the knowledge that anything can happen keeps us engaged and on the edge of our seats.

There are a number of leadership lessons we can learn from these extraordinary athletes and their coaches. What stands out most is the role that a team’s or individual performer’s coach plays once the athlete(s) enter the field of play.

Coaches stand back and let the athletes perform. They are not out there moving the athletes’ feet, pushing them down the track or holding their hockey sticks. They allow the athletes to perform unhindered because they recognise who has the talent. Similarly, managers who build their teams by selecting people whose strengths eclipse their own, and then allowing them to express those talents freely, will reap the reward of outstanding performance.

One of the best cues we can take from these Olympic partnerships is that if an athlete fails to deliver an expected performance, the best coaches do not berate and hang on to the team or athlete’s shortcomings. They recognise that the athletes are fully aware of what went wrong.

The best coaches support and encourage, helping the performers to regain their confidence so that they are psychologically prepared to face their next battle. Managers who focus their feedback on detailing an employee’s deficiencies will simply demoralise individuals and seriously undermine future opportunities for exceptional performance. Great managers seek what’s working and no matter how small the feat, they fan that flame to give the employee the confidence to keep going. Of course, they don’t ignore easy fixes but they frame the feedback in a future-oriented way: "Next time try this…" They provide ideas about how to improve and always include the employee’s ideas in the plan.

Finally, anything great that has ever been accomplished has been accomplished through the conscious collaboration of extraordinary individuals. While the high-performing individual can certainly impact certain outcomes, the makings for great and sustainable performance on the field or in your organisation are found in those groups of people who have discovered how to bring out the best in themselves and each other by virtue of working together and supporting the best in one another.

Leadership Lessons from the Life of Gandhi

A Higher Standard of Leadership: Lessons from the Life of Gandhi tells us that we need to adhere to moral principles in all our activities, rather than using a position of leadership as a way to achieve power and privilege.

If we are to look for a model, an individual to benchmark for a higher standard of leadership, what better example could we follow than that of Mahatma Gandhi. While Gandhi was seen by most as an idealist, he demonstrated that he could also be a practical and effective leader. The author, Dr Keshavan Nair, a lifelong student of the teachings and life of Gandhi, provides the reader with a pragmatic guide based on three concepts Gandhi exemplified.

1. Service is the purpose of leadership.
2. Moral principles must be the basis of goals, decisions, and strategies.
3. A single standard of conduct needs to be employed in both public and private life.

Dr. Nair brings Gandhi's ideals to us in clear business terms without taking away from or diluting their moral or ethical value. As Nair says, "Everyone in the organisation, irrespective of position, can commit to one personal act of service every day."