At the time of writing this, the 2018 Winter Olympics have, sadly, come to a close. Congratulations to Norway for the win; not that I think winning is the purpose of it all.
It has been a glorious couple of weeks of thrills and spills in events where you can quite literally die if you miss your mark: I’m glad the business world is slightly more forgiving.
The figure skating captivated my dancer’s heart, my eldest boy Spencer loved the Bobsled and the Snowboarding Halfpipe was Austin’s favourite.
“You call that a frontside triple cork 1440!” My suddenly-savvy seven-year-old wailed. “I think the Canadian’s switch backside triple cork 1620 spooked him,” consoled the nine-year-old, also a newly minted armchair aficionado.
While I’m mostly sure they were talking about snowboarding moves, I am 100% sure my boys were absorbing the very best of what the Olympics are really about, and what life is about.
“The Olympic games aren’t about winning, they’re about trying to win. The motto is faster, higher, stronger, not fastest, highest strongest.” Bronte Barratt, Australian Olympic swimmer.
There is a lot I’ll miss about these games but what I’ll miss most is the aptitude of the athletes. The physicality, the camaraderie, the nerve and fixed determination, and the astonishing displays of mental athleticism from all of them.
Winning at mental athletics
Athletes know all too well that the mind is stronger than the body. Which is why so many sports people excel in business.
- They are driven by purpose.
- They break down goals every day.
- They analyse both progress and setbacks.
- They trust and depend on their support team and/or teammates.
- They are unfazed being outside of their comfort zone.
- They remove fear from the situation.
- They push onward regardless.
Some of the best leaders that I have met, or had the pleasure of working with, fundamentally understand that it is this mental athleticism that gets you and your team to the heights that can sometimes seem impossible.
As my trusted ski instructor said to me, “don’t look down, tuck in behind me and focus on the next turn”. That’s practically every bullet point above encapsulated in one guiding instruction.
Gold medal leadership
My absolute favourite Olympic moment came via Yuzuru Hanyu’s gold medal performance in men’s figures skating. It wasn’t only his performance on the ice that merited the gold, it was his behaviour after the event.
He invited the second and third place winners onto his podium to share in his glory, as if to say we are in this together, we make each other better, and thank you.
It was a clear acknowledgment of the true grit that it takes to even get to the games, let alone receive a medal. It was a profound gesture only another true competitor could fully comprehend.
I couldn’t help but relate this champion’s natural behaviour to my own aspirations in leadership. This was the physical manifestation of literally bringing people up to a higher level, of sharing the glory, of acknowledging collaboration and elevating the entire playing field. This is the very essence of leadership.
There was a spirit to these games that seemed richer and kinder, possibly more respectful, than any other. Aside from a couple of glitches, these games were steeped the very truest forms of sportsman and sportswomanship, and to my reckoning, of leadership.
Maybe the world is collectively retaliating to growing clusters of hateful, xenophobic rhetoric, maybe an honourable South Korean culture permeated these games… or maybe we are evolving our appreciation of the purpose of competition?
Whatever the case may be I was enthralled. I couldn’t have been happier to watch my kids soak in all this goodness and while we’re all sad to see it end, the spirit of these games will endure.
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