6 Lessons of Olympic Leadership

Six lessons from the Tokyo Summer Olympics that any leader or manager can apply

by Martin G. Moore
Olympic torch

We saw a real test in leadership at the Tokyo Summer Olympics, as the athletes, coaches, IOC and host nation faced numerous make-or-break moments amidst a global pandemic. Here are six key leadership lessons that any leader or manager can apply to their own company or team:

  1. When you’re outgunned, be bold. USA's Courtney Frerichs’ brave front-running in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase to win the silver medal demonstrated how to overachieve against fearsome competition. In business, boldness amidst great uncertainty can create competitive advantage. 
     
  2. Know when you aren’t on your game. American gymnast Simone Biles taught us that, regardless of others’ expectations, it’s critical to listen to your inner voice and have the self-awareness to pause and slow down. Every leader must know when to back off and when to double down.
    Tokyo Olympics
  3. Intrinsic motivation will always be stronger. Without crowds to cheer on their favorites, we saw plenty of upsets. To use the old cliché, it often came down to who wanted it more. The ability to perform in all conditions and contexts is the sign of true resilience.
     
  4. Build talent from the ground up. The success of the U.S. women’s soccer team shows what can happen when talent is built at the lowest levels of a sport. (Since Title IX barred discrimination in schools and colleges, women’s sports have exploded in recent decades.) In business, talent must be harnessed and developed from the ground up to build depth and capability throughout an organization.
     
  5. Teamwork trumps individual brilliance. Despite their incredible talents, the U.S. Men’s 4x100-meter track relay bowed out in the first round. Even if you have the most talented people on your team, high performance may elude you without the ability to put all the ingredients together.
     
  6. Clutch moments count the most. In the women’s pole vault, American Katie Nageotte was almost eliminated before clearing 4.5 meters on her third and final attempt. She went on to clear 4.9 meters to win the gold (almost 16 inches higher than the height she nearly faltered on). Every leader should aspire to this level of grace under pressure. PM

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