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22 Traits Businesses Can Learn from Olympians

Posted 12th August 2021
By David Langdown

22 Traits Businesses Can Learn from Olympians by David Langdown

Sunday saw the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games from Tokyo. It concluded a festival of outstanding sport. Team GB’s haul of 65 medals including 22 golds equalled the number achieved in London 2012.

There were thrilling moments and incredible individual and team performances. Congratulations to everyone associated.

For this blog, to celebrate Team GB’s success, I set myself a challenge – to identify 22 characteristics or traits of Olympic champions, one for each GB Gold, that businesses can apply to emulate their success in the commercial world. 

Here goes…

1. Goal setting

No one ever found themselves on the top step of the Olympic podium by accident. If you want to achieve, you need to set big goals.

2. Strategy

The strategy works as the roadmap to the Olympians’ success. This is not a race plan, it’s a long term plan to to turn their goal into an achievable objective

22 Traits Businesses Can Learn from Olympians by David Langdown. Action Plan

3. Action Plan

The direction is set, now comes the plan. An athlete will identify the key milestones, the timings, people, equipment and resources needed. They will create a structure around them that can deliver success.

4. Discipline

Elite performers have incredible discipline. They don’t stop training because it’s cold, wet or windy! They stick to their plans, routines and disciplines, preparing them for success.

5. Determination

Watch the final stages of most Olympic events and you can see the athletes straining every muscle to find the last 10th of a point, second or metre. There’s no gain without pain and nothing less than 100% will do.

6. Rest

Athletes must allow recovery time between training sessions and between races. This lets their muscles repair and keeps their mind fresh to support concentration and critical thinking. In business, we too need to take time out to function at our best.

7. Resilience

Even the greatest athletes have off-days. They get injured or ill, sleep badly, or find themselves out of position in events. But they don’t give up. They re-group, learn and come back stronger.

8. Belief

Henry Ford said, “If you believe you can or believe you can’t, you are right.” No gold medalist ever stood on the start line believing they could not win. Belief in your plans and abilities is a fundamental requirement for success.

9. Flexibility

The race rarely pans out the way it is expected to. Rivals may surprise their competitors with their tactics, but elite athletes prepare to respond to any situation. Their plan is not rigid and they change tactics quickly if required.

22 Traits Businesses Can Learn from Olympians by David Langdown. Innovasion

10. Innovation

New and original ideas are often the difference between success and failure. Innovative moves and techniques have revolutionised events, resulting in recognition for their creators after whom they have been named.

11. Study

Champions are often great students of their event. They have analysed the successes and failures of the competitors of the past, and have used their experiences to short cut their own learning.

12. Peaking

Athletes cannot be at their peak the whole time, so plan to be at their best for key events like World Championships and Olympic games. In business we can’t be at our peak all the time either, so we must plan for milestone events like conferences, product launches and campaigns.

13. Focus

Many factors come together to create a golden performance, and athletes must maintain focus on all of them. By the time they reach the competition, they can visualise every moment of a perfect performance because they have prepared it in their mind so many times before.

14. Pressure

Imagine standing on the start line of the 100m with 80,000 in the stadium and the television eyes of the world on you. Less than a second will be the difference between a gold medal and nowhere. How’s your heart rate? Business pressures may be different, but we still have to manage them to be successful. 

22 Traits Businesses Can Learn from Olympians by David Langdown. Teamwork

15. Teamwork

Whether in individual or team events, Olympians rely on a group of people bringing everything together for the moment of competition. Each plays a part in the end result and operating with alignment, clear communication, understanding and responsibility is the bedrock for success. 

16. Perfectionism

As Dave Brailsford, formerly performance director of British Cycling said, “It’s very difficult to improve one thing by 100%. It’s much easier to improve 100 things by 1% for the same effect.” Marginal gains across an organisation can have the same impact.

17. Take Risks

It is very unlikely that exceptional success will come by doing the same as everyone else. To stand out from the crowd sometimes requires taking risks and being prepared to lose, in order to win.

18. Reflect Objectively

When ‘amateurs’ lose, they talk about bad luck, conditions or decisions going against them. ‘Professional’ athletes look at their own performance. What did they do well, what did they do badly? What can they learn and how will they use this to improve next time? Successful businesses do the same.

19. Compassion

Champions have compassion for those around them and those that they compete with. They want to win fairly against worthy adversaries. They celebrate victories, but earn the respect of competitors and fans alike.

20. Be Positive

Olympians work on their negative thoughts and embrace their positive beliefs, developing a mindset that tells them they can and will win. Most people are their own biggest critics, focusing on their perceived weaknesses and under-valuing their own strengths. 

21. Embrace the Challenge

It’s impossible to reach the pinnacle of success without rising to the challenge of the competition. Some of the greatest advances in sport have been when rivals were pushing each other for supremacy. Rather than fearing failure, competitors relish the challenge to compete and improve each other.

22 Traits Businesses Can Learn from Olympians by David Langdown. Dream Big

22. Dream Big

Gold medal-winning Olympian Kriss Akabusi believes we all have the ability to achieve. Maybe we can’t all win gold medals, but if we have a dream and we follow it with passion and commitment we can achieve it. On that basis, Kriss says, “Dream big!”

Those are the 22 traits that I selected. I would love to know if you agree or disagree, or to hear suggestions that you might add to the list.

CMO at Focus7

David Langdown is co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Focus7, a purpose-driven, brand-led growth agency. David has been a Fellow of the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing since 2003. He has an Advanced Professional Diploma in Psychotherapeutic Counselling and is a practising counsellor.

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