What can we learn from Olympic athletes that will make our business better?

Watching the US women’s Olympic gymnastics team win big this week (very big), I was mesmerized not just by their talent, which was jaw-dropping awesome, but their focus, their team work, and their camaraderie. They didn’t just win the gold; they won it by a point spread not seen in years. I was impressed by their intense focus, coupled with a confidence in the face of not just their own, but the world’s, expectations. In their eyes and body language it was clear to me that they knew they would never falter.

“We’re going in as the best team in the world,” Olympian Aly Raisman said. “So we should carry ourselves that way.”

You really can’t help but be inspired by these perfect athletes and all they did to become that way. I start thinking that there are things we could all learn from them to make us stronger and help build our business as we compete for our own kind of gold.

TheUPSStore.com lists six business lessons we can learn from the Olympians:

  1. Take smart risks
  2. Set realistic goals
  3. Have the right mindset
  4. Never stay down
  5. Embrace competition
  6. Keep your reputation in mind

To this wise listicle, I’d like to add my three observations that I think are applicable to the advertising and marketing worlds, and probably to all businesses:

  • Intense internal focus.
    Olympic athletes have an intense focus. That focus is based on what they know they are capable of and the sense of purpose they have. It’s a primal focus, so deep they don’t notice the others around them. The gymnasts make a connection with the audience in a perfunctory way, and then go right into their routines and performances with pure determination. This is important.  In business, we need to be able to connect with our goals and engage our capabilities and talents to achieve those goals. Yet, unlike the Olympians, we have to make an empathetic connection with the audience. Making eye contact, reading body language, and making sure our clients/audiences understand our communication are our Olympian tasks.
  • Practice.
    Implicit in getting to the Olympics is a lifetime of intense self-critical practice. Inherent in each failure, each missed landing, each botched approach to the vault, is the opportunity to improve. When we go after new business and don’t win, we often think of it as a loss and let it go, when in reality it’s an opportunity to improve, a chance to get better at our game. When we have an opportunity to pitch we need to see it as not only a test of whether or not we win it, but also a test of our ability to reach farther. Practicing helps us win new business, but it also hones our skills for our existing business.
  • Teamwork.
    In this weeks 4X100 relay, Brazil had the lead after the first turn, then the lead shifted to France. But when the now legendary Michael Phelps jumped in the water, he carried the US team to victory with each stroke of his almost avian arms. This is the epitome of teamwork. When we operate as a team, it’s vital that each member of the team recognize when a team member is struggling, and jump in to help that member and the rest of the team succeed. Olympic athletes exhibit a tremendous respect and exhilaration for their teammates and appreciation of their competitors. Clearly, that is part of being a success. In our own businesses we have to cultivate teamwork and remind ourselves that none of us are as good alone as we are as a team. Practicing with the team, acknowledging each strength and weakness of the team members is an important part of our victories.

With the UPS listicle and my three here, the Olympians can teach us much. I would venture that there are probably hundreds of things we can learn from these perfect competitors. They have achieved a level of “personal best” that few of us will. But, like them, we can dream, then learn, then practice, then focus, then activate the team to help move our businesses across the finish line and win our own version of the gold medal.

And after all, isn’t that why we’re in this?

 

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