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What Olympic Athletes can teach us about great leadership

“Training, exceptional coaching and a dedication and desire to win were my driving forces.”  – Allan Wells, 1980 Moscow Olympics 100m Champion

I have always been a keen athlete. The 100m and 200m were my best events. The athletes I looked up to were, at the time, the fastest men and women in the world. Of all those who inspired me, one in particular stood out: Allan Wells was my Olympic ‘pin-up hero’. The 100m Champion stood right between Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet up there on my bedroom wall. What fascinated me about Allan was his story. Seemingly springing from nowhere, we saw pictures of Wells training alone on a running track, in the midst of an icy Winter somewhere in the deepest Scotland. His wife, Margot, putting him through his paces, stopwatch around her neck, clipboard in her hands. Against the onslaught of wind and rain, Allan looked bold and strong, every bit the conquering hero. Resilience seemed to flow like an invisible energy field around his entire being.

Olympic athletes are the best of the best. Human beings at their fastest, strongest, highest levels of performance, squeezing every last drop of potential out of themselves. I’ve often thought about the various factors that have to be exactly right in order to achieve this kind of greatness. The kind of things that enable people to become better versions of themselves. Allan Wells had the drive and the resilience, but more importantly he had the right strategy. Here are some of the things that Olympic athletes demonstrate which you can implement into your own life to become a great leader.

  • Have a clear purpose and vision.

    Olympians have a very clear mental picture of what they want, why they want it and how to move closer toward it. Everything they do, from setting goals and creating action plans are designed to get them to first place. They constantly measure and reassess whether they are on track, every step of the way.

  • Reprogram and recondition your beliefs.

    Unlike most of us, Olympic athletes are not controlled by their fears. They challenge ideas and opinions, rather than just accept them as fact. They believe in themselves. They tell themselves that they can be, do or have anything they want in life. They adopt habits which help them to become world-class performers./li>

  • Focus only on successful and empowering thoughts.

    High achievers take responsibility for what they dwell on. While many of us bog ourselves down with the details, Olympians consciously choose to think big. They are aware of the fact that what they repeat in their mind will eventually affect their performance. Consequently, their actions are congruent with their thought processes.

  • Understand the importance of positive emotions.

    Olympians motivate themselves by focusing their emotions on their dreams and passion in a positive way. They don’t allow themselves to be distracted by negative emotions. Their ability to put aside anything else going on in their lives and focus only on the task in front of them is crucial for achieving success.

  • Embrace failure and relish adversity.

    Being driven to succeed is about embracing risks, mistakes, criticism and failure in order to reach your ultimate vision or dream. Olympic athletes do not seek security – they operate outside of their comfort zone. They have a plan to push forward through adversity and learn all they can from the challenge. Persistence is key – great leaders know it can take years to achieve their ultimate vision.

  • Always be willing to learn.

    Olympians spend thousands of hours practicing, studying their competitors, watching videos of their performances and spending session after session training with their coaches and mentors. Like great leaders, great athletes know that success requires the right people around them. World-class performers treat learning seriously and they are open-minded to coaching and advice. This is what turns good leaders into inspirational leaders. Which one are you?