There's no shortage of analogies to draw between the business and athletic domains. Athletics can teach us about successfully running a business, big or small, and what's involved in effectively leading a team. With the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics mere days away, what riper time is there than now to draw inspiration from sport? 

Because this year's games have flown under the radar (enduring the bomb cyclone was enough cold weather for us, perhaps), you probably aren't up to speed on the multi-sport event. Here are five valuable takeaways that business leaders can learn from this year's Games. The power of the lessons, if taken to heart, rivals that of a shot fired from a biathlete's rifle. 

1. Focus on the team, not individual star players. 

The 2018 Olympics marks the first time in 20 years that the NHL will not participate in the event. The decision was driven by polls that solicited NHL fans--fans that were largely opposed to the League taking a 17-day hiatus. Not wanting to compromise its own season, the League made the difficult decision to withdraw from the event. 

Effective leaders know the importance and implications of making tough decisions. They are fully aware of the potential fallout, yet are willing to stand in the face of adversity and make difficult choices with consequential sacrifices. They don't cater to the whims of their star players. Instead, they consider the best interests of the organization as a whole. 

2. Always be on the lookout for ways to boost employee efficiency. 

It takes upwards of 2.5 hours to travel from Seoul to Pyeongchang by vehicle--one lofty Uber ride, for sure. (The city's name, "Pyeongchang", is distinguished by its lower case "c" from references to the Olympics, which use the upper case "C"). In preparation for the Games, leaders opted to install a new high-speed railway that promised to reduce the travel time by more than half, to 69 minutes. 

While businesses don't yet have the resources to shuttle their employees to and from work via high-speed railways (I would hazard a guess that Tesla and SpaceX employees will be among the first to be gifted with such a perk), they must always be on the lookout for ways to increase employee efficiency levels. By implementing effective work from home policies, limiting time spent in unproductive meetings, and funding workplace productivity technologies, leaders can increase employee efficiency levels and levels of satisfaction. 

3. Focus on diversity and inclusion. 

This year's emblem symbolizes a world open to everyone. According to the official website for the Games, it "combines the image of ice and snow, winter sports stars (athletes), and people from all over the world, coming together in PyeongChang". 

Celebrating and embracing diversity and inclusion have become business imperatives. According to McKinsey, gender and ethnically-diverse companies are 15 percent and 35 percent more likely to outperform their peers, respectively. When companies craft effective diversity and inclusion strategies, they prime themselves to conquer the competition. 

4. Celebrate passion.  

The official slogan for the Games is "Passion. Connected." The 2018 Olympics exudes the spirit of passion, bringing all people together with a shared passion for winter sports. 

Passion is as essential to athletics as it is to business. A Tel Aviv study found that talent is actually less important than sheer passion when it comes to professional success. Successful businesses know the road to success is dependent upon the recruitment and hiring of passionate employees. 

5. Persevere when times get tough.  

They say third time is a charm. Pyeongchang was defeated in both its 2010 and 2014 Olympic bids. As the smallest city to host the Olympics since 1994 (when the Games were held in Lillehammer, Norway), you could say Pyeongchang was a bit of an underdog. Persistence pays off. In its third consecutive bid, Pyeongchang prevailed, receiving the majority of votes. Without a doubt, it learned from its previous attempts. To prove the naysayers wrong (many of whom argued that the city lacked the infrastructure to host the Games), Pyeongchang constructed many of the sporting venues in advance of its bid. 

Perseverance is the key to success. According to research by Angela Duckworth, "grit" (which entails a combination of passion and perseverance) trumps intelligence and innate talent. It is a trait shared by the highest of achievers. Persistence equips leaders with the wherewithal to combat business problems and the ability to overcome obstacles largely unscathed.

Starting February 9th, as you'll have an opportunity to watch figure skaters perform heroic triple axels and quadruple toe loops, and freestyle skiers conquer the most exacting moguls, remember the important business lessons that can be learned from the PyeongChang Games. Paying heed to the lessons will prime you to build a gold-medal business. 

Published on: Feb 6, 2018
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