Olympic Success Secrets for Leadership

One of Canada’s Greatest Olympic Coaches Shares 3 High-Performance Tips to Create Better Business Leaders

This week, as the Opening Ceremony of Tokyo 2020 was scheduled to take place, I reflected on the postponement of the Olympic Games and the thousands of disappointed athletes who, due to the pandemic, have an extra year of training in front of them. Over the past months, many high-performance athletes have used this opportunity to return to the basics, to work on the fundamentals and sharpen their foundational skills. 

Just like Olympic athletes, this strange COVID time is exactly the right time for aspiring business leaders to look at opportunities to develop their fundamental skills. High-performance on the field of play in sport or in business is about becoming the absolute best you can be.  It’s the commitment to always being better at what you’re doing today than you were yesterday.  

What would happen if we trained emerging business leaders like we train budding Olympic athletes? Here are the 3 tips that will take your leadership practice to the podium.

  1. Consciously Build Your Foundational Skills 

High-performance starts with building a strong foundational base of skills that get practiced and perfected over time.  Everyone, even if you are the CEO, sharpens their base a little more when they go back to the fundamentals. The stronger that fundamental base is, the better your performance and results will be.  Just like a person can be trained to become a high-performance athlete so, too, can someone be trained to be a high-performance leader.  One of the most important parts of becoming a great leader is to honestly self-reflect and assess your skill level.  

The challenge is that most people take these fundamental leadership skills for granted or, worse, think they do them well already. When you don’t actually break them down, purposefully practice them, reflect on them and see how you can do them better, you leave your performance as a leader to chance. Sometimes that might work out really well for you but, sometimes, it might mean you do  a terrible leadership job because you just didn’t develop your skills enough.   I think the world is coming to this idea that it’s really important that we all learn how to lead ourselves and others and that anybody can do that – but you need to have the drive and consciously make the effort to learn. 

Don’t leave your leadership performance to chance!

  • Constantly Apply What You Learn

A couple years ago I was listening to the Vice-President of a bank speaking about the qualities of great leaders when one of the audience members asked, “Well, how do I do this?”  She looked at him and said, “You practice.” Duh!  Hearing this was a watershed moment for me.  Of course!  This is exactly what we do with athletes.  

A swimmer doesn’t read a book on good swimming technique and then go to the Olympics.  They have a coach that oversees the development while the athlete does all the actual work, learning as they go and improving each step of the way.  Great Traits has taken the same coaching approach to teaching leadership.  Our Corporate Champions Program is an Applied High-Performance Program. The APPLIED part is what makes the program gold!.  You do the actual leadership work everyday in your work environment, on-the-job.  You’re not reading about what somebody else has done in a certain circumstance or given a case study.  You are doing it.  Over time, the accumulation of that practice with some powerful coaching feedback is what makes you a better leader.  I think people are waking up to the idea that unless I can apply it, unless I do it, the learning doesn’t stick.

This isn’t about theory; it is about purposeful practice.  Your workplace is your training ground.

  • Create a High-Performance Pathway for Your Leaders

In Canada, we have programs for identifying athletes that clearly demonstrate potential for success. They start to follow a very prescriptive athlete development plan to make sure they are building the right fundamental techniques at the right time so that the combination, when they all come together, create a world class athlete.

It’s the same thing in leadership.  Companies talk about succession planning but often wait to develop their talent.  When you find a person that’s showing great promise, this is when you should start training them.  Teaching them the fundamental skills of leadership will become their base for the rest of their careers.  Just like an athlete moves along a continuum to become a high-performer so, too, do leaders in our Corporate Champions Program.

Over 12 weeks we guide participants through 3 levels of course work that incrementally, each week, teaches certain skills that are practical and doable.  The learning continues to evolve along the High-Performance Leadership Development Pathway.  As you apply the skills at work, on-the-job, you practice it and perfect them until they start to become part of your way of being. This is when you become a high-performance leader.

Debbie Muir

Over a 10-year-period, Debbie Muir’s athletes won seven out of a possible nine world championship titles, two Olympic silver medals in the debut of their sport, synchronized swimming, and in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics they won two Olympic gold medals. Debbie was named by the Coaching Association of Canada as one of the top 10 all-time coaches in Canadian history.

Debbie is co-author of The Great Traits of Champions and co-founder of The Corporate Champions Program.

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