I love watching the Olympics.  I was thrilled when they started alternating the summer and winter Olympics so I would only have to wait every two years instead of four years.  The Olympics embody all that is good and inspiring about the human spirit.

Olympic athletes and their back stories of trials and triumph stimulate great family conversations. I am simply in awe of how they practice day in and day out, week in and week out, year in and year out for that one moment to perform when it really matters.

As I learned of more odds-defeating athletic feats during this winter Olympics, I had an ah-ha moment.   The leaders I work with consider themselves business athletes, and many of them are at an Olympic level of business.  That said, they have a much bigger challenge than Team USA who has the luxury of practicing 99% of their total time to prepare to perform just 1% of the time.

Business Olympians have the opposite challenge.  They must perform 99% (or more) of the time with just 1% dedicated to practice.  Business Olympians know how to make the most of that 1% to elevate their performance the remaining 99% of the time.  Here are two of their best practice tips:

Manage Your Attention

Charlie Jones is a sportscaster who has covered several Olympic games in his long career. At the 1996 games in Atlanta, he was assigned to announce the rowing, canoeing and kayaking events--a situation that left him less than thrilled, since it was broadcast at 7 A.M. and the venue was an hour's drive from Atlanta.

What Jones discovered, however, was that it ended up being one the most memorable sports events in his career because he gained a chance to understand the mental workings of these Olympic athletes. Preparing for the broadcast, Jones interviewed the rowers and asked them what they would do in case of rain, strong winds, or breaking an oar. The response was always the same: "That's outside my boat."

After hearing the same answer again and again, Jones realized that these Olympic athletes had a remarkable focus. In their attempt to win an Olympic medal, he wrote, "They were interested only in what they could control--and that was what was going on inside their boat."

Everything else was beyond their control and not worth expending the mental energy and attention that would distract them from their ultimate goal. Jones says that this insight made the event "by far the best Olympics of my life."

You will have moments when we need to redirect your efforts - or those of others - "inside the boat" to keep yourself and your team focused. You may even have to jump out of the boat a few times to rescue those who have gone overboard and drifted away.  Stay inside your boat by managing your attention, something you can always control.

Improve Each Day

Your life is you own learning lab where you can build your leadership competence.  Best practices are everywhere.  Watch the people around you.  Find nuggets of excellence from a father-in-law, a new young player on your team, a speaker at a professional meeting, a mentor, a fellow leader, your child's school principal, a Boy Scout's troop leader or a particularly helpful salesperson at a local department store. 

Observe, ask, listen and learn.

Also, courageously seek feedback on your performance and measure results so you can elevate your game.  Be slow to change your goals, but be quick to quit your methods if they are not working. 

Incorporate these two tips into your precious practice time, and you will be on your way to Olympic level leadership.

Published on: Feb 14, 2018