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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Positive Leadership: Learning from Olympians

How can we learn from our athletes currently preparing for the Olympic Games? 

By exploring 5 of the core principles these elite performers work to in the world of sport, we can translate these into practical strategies for success in the world of work.

Have a clear vision of where you want to go

Successful sports teams have a specific moment in time when they want to achieve their goals. Usually in business we have to deliver consistently great performances throughout the year in order to achieve our strategic goals. So how do we do this?

Making sure we understand the overall vision of the organisation is vital, as well as agreeing clearly defined goals for ourselves which align with these strategic goals and help us to develop as individuals. The challenge here is to make the time to re-visit these goals on a regular basis and review our performances in the context of these goals throughout the year.

Focus on what really matters

Elite sports men and women will ask the question of every process or action they take, will this add value? Will doing this make me jump higher, run faster, throw further?

Once you have total clarity on your goals and where you are going, the key then is to ensure that you focus your time and energies on activities that are congruent with those goals. How good are you at saying no to demands on your time which do not ultimately contribute to the performance indicators you have in place? How well do we prioritise our time to deal with tasks which we may not enjoy so much but which are critical to achieving our goals?

Another key phrase from sport, “Control the Controllables” relates to this concept too. Once you have clarity on what really matters and the ability to stick to that, it’s also really helpful to be realistic about what’s in your sphere of influence and work hard to avoid getting bogged down on the things you can’t make an impact on.

Work to strengths

Maximise what you’re great at and ensure your players are in the right positions. This practice of constantly analysing core strengths and moving the team around accordingly is second nature within sport.

In business we potentially have less flexibility to be able to adjust our roles and responsibilities every week. But, just having a regular review of your strengths can mean that putting yourself forward for projects, secondments or just covering a colleague's work provides you with great opportunities to maximise your performance and maintain your motivation.

Do things differently

Only by innovating and challenging the norm can you gain a competitive advantage in sport and business. Look at Dick Fosbury and his controversial innovation in the high jump, which led to the adoption of the 'Fosbury Flop' as the accepted technique to enable an athlete to jump as high as humanly possible. Hard to imagine now that before Fosbury competitors used to scissor jump over the bar!

In the commercial world this openness to doing things differently is of course equally vital. It’s easy to get stuck in routines and be blocked by the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset.  Fresh thinking generates great new ways of doing things, and builds engagement and motivation at the same time.

Lead from the front

Whether it’s Usain Bolt’s trademark strut, the quiet authority of Steve Redgrave or the sheer grit of Kelly Holmes, the persona we project has a huge impact on those around us. 

A simple code to live by is to always model best practice. Set the tone with your own brand, your communication, your body language and each one of your interactions. Constantly ask yourself what impact your behaviour and language is having on others, and focus on making it a positive and inspirational one.

With 6 months to the games, Team GB is close to realising their potential, and the great news is that these lessons from their endeavours can be applied directly to our roles and our teams. By emulating these high performance traits you can ensure you produce gold medal winning performances.