The 2014 Winter Olympics now going on in Sochi, Russia give us an exciting look at some of the world’s top athletes and at some sports we don’t know too much about such curling, the luge and the biathlon. While we get caught up in the personal stories of these young men and women and root for our favorites, we also can learn something from their all-out efforts.
Here are five business lessons we can learn from Olympic athletes:
1. Work hard to reach your goals.
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Most Olympic athletes have been working on their sport since they were young children. Through dedication, long hours and just plain hard work, they have made it to the goal of being at the Olympic Games representing their countries. To get to this point has meant saying no to other opportunities – many of them worthwhile – in order to stay focused on their sport.
Although they may seem like it to us sometimes, most of today’s top businesses are not overnight success stories. The people who have created these organizations have worked hard to make it where they are today.
Like the athletes we are watching in Russia, these business professionals set long-term goals and made choices and decisions that helped to keep them focused on their goals. What are your long-term goals for your business? What do you need to do now to make sure you reach them?
2. Create and rely on a strong support system.
Olympic athletes cannot get to the level they are in their sport by themselves. Look in the stands and you see family members, extended family members, friends, spouses and former teammates cheering and rooting them on. Parents and siblings made sacrifices along the way to fund the athlete’s efforts and to get them to the many, many practice and training sessions the athlete has attended over the years.
Similarly, you need to create a support system for your business. It’s important to have the support and backing of those closest to you. Keep them informed of what is going on in your career; ask for their feedback and advice. Also rely on them to get you away from work when you need a break.
3. Have a good coach.
Athletes have coaches; business people have mentors. Both are essential for helping us be the best we can be. Who is someone in your field or industry that you admire? Contact that person to see if you could get together for lunch or coffee. Tell that person that you admire his or her work and that you would appreciate their perspective on the field.
You’ll be surprised at how giving others can be of their time and advice. By hearing about someone else’s experiences – both the good and the bad – you will be better equipped to handle the challenges and demands of your career.
4. Create a strong brand identity.
When you hear the familiar and stirring fanfare or see the recognizable six inter-joined rings that represent the Olympics, you know just what is about to happen. You are about to see sports at their finest level. The Olympics have a strong brand identity with the theme carried out through colorful team uniforms, national flags and the playing of each medal winner’s national anthem. You know that those athletes stand for the best that country has to offer.
What is your brand identity? Do you need a new logo or a new slogan? When people see the name of your company, do they know what to expect? Are you consistent in offering a quality that your clients or customers can expect?
5. Get up and try again.
It’s easy to think of the Olympics – or business, for that matter — in terms of only the winners. But for every medal winner, there are dozens of other exemplary athletes who are going home with nothing but the honor of having competed in the games.
I watched the mogul completion Monday night and saw Finland’s Ville Miettunen miss his landing off the first jump, catch the tips of his skis in a mogul, flip over and land on his back on another mogul. For what seemed a long time but was really only a minute or two, he just lay there on the snow. This was his moment, something he had been training for for most of his life, and there he was lying there in the snow all by himself. After a member of the Olympic medical team attended him, Miettunen was able to stand and ski to the bottom of the course. Admitting later that he had the wind knocked out of him, this young man showed real courage.
You might have to get up and slide to the bottom of the course with your business. The true test will be what you do after that. Will you learn from your mistakes and get up and try again?
No matter what business you are in, there will be setbacks, even failures. And you will make some mistakes too. Sometimes you will lose customers because of your mistakes. Sometimes you will lose valuable employees. All you can do is, like Miettunen, pick yourself and ski down the hill to the finish line and be ready for your next race.
The Olympics can be a powerful metaphor for entrepreneurs and business leaders. Team work, guts and determination make the Olympic Games compelling, but the behind-the scenes stories make them something we can strive for in our everyday lives.
“There’s always a point where you get knocked down,” notes American Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones, Jones, who is currently on Team USA as a brakewoman for the bobsled team. “But I draw on what I’ve learned on the track: If you work hard, things will work out.”