Olympics and Leadership

Most of us find ourselves drawn to watching the Olympics even if we never competed in sports or consider ourselves athletic.  The Olympics capture the best in human athleticism as well as the human spirit.  Around our office, excitement has turned into exhaustion as most staff stay up later than normal to watch events and drag the next day from the lack of sleep.  The sleepiness aside, the Olympics provides a number of important lessons that apply in our day-to-day lives as leaders.

As I watched several events recently, I could not help but think about how we like coaches and team leaders at the Olympics strive to produce incredible results with our teams in an environment of extreme competition. As leaders, we play many roles in a day that draw on multiple skills similar to being in a decathlon or some other multiple test events.  One minute we may be coaching or mentoring a team member while another we focus on strategic planning.  Some of the most common roles include:

  • Visionary
  • Planner of Resources
  • Executes Priorities
  • Decision maker
  • Team architect

When we take on the role of team architect, we have to ensure that the team possesses what it needs to be successful.  We assume responsibility for providing the tangible and intangible resources necessary for the team to succeed individually and as a group.  A simple way of remembering what a team needs drawing on the Olympic spirit is to MEDAL.

M=Mobilize – A successful leader assembles and the team and organizes for action.  The leader must decide how to maximize individual skills and leverage available resources.

E=Empathize – A successful leader possess understanding, awareness, and sensitivity for his or her team members and factors emotions, aspirations, and perceptions into the utilized approach.

D=Deputize – A successful leader abandons the idea that micro-management or trying to do it all provides a better alternative to trusting his or her staff and empowering them.

A=Analyze – A successful leader takes a situation, process, or issue and rationally analyzes the root cause and best methods for improvement while attempting to remove personal bias or past perceptions.

L=Legitimize – A successful leader recognizes that he or she not only represents, but embodies the organization and how employees perceive it.

A successful leader accomplishes each of these to provide the environment and structure that a team needs to flourish.

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