Winning Like an Olympian

Winning Like an OlympianAnother summer Olympics has come and gone, and this one was a doozy!

Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian in history. Individual and team athletes broke 38 world records. And between the expected victories and the unexpected upsets, the games held enough drama to keep us on the edge of our seats for two action-packed weeks.

Perhaps most impressive were the nine world records set in the swimming pool. This may seem pedestrian compared to the Beijing Olympics, where swimmers obliterated 25 world marks. But after the high-tech bodysuits that led to most of those records were banned from the pool, experts predicted it would take years before swimmers would beat those times.

So how did nine world records manage to fall? I like American swimmer Ryan Lochte’s explanation.

When they banned the suits after 2008, everyone started thinking that there won’t be another world record broken for a while,” he said. “But I broke one last year, and so did (Chinese swimmer) Sun Yang. So people started saying, ‘You know what? It’s possible. This can actually happen.’ So they started believing, and once you start believing, anything can happen.”

I agree with Mr. Lotche. If you want to win — in sports or in business — you first have to believe it’s possible. Then you paint a clear picture of what winning looks like. And then you go out and achieve it by focusing on it relentlessly. That’s why I constantly stress the importance of having a clear definition of winning in business. If you don’t know what it looks like, how can you believe it’s possible? And if you don’t believe it’s possible, how can you accomplish it?

Today’s swimmers are bigger and stronger. And they’ve developed new stroke techniques and changed their training regimens to get faster in the pool. But more important, their coaches have convinced them that the records can be broken — even without the high-tech suits. Once they believe that, anything is possible.

The Olympics also reminded us of several other factors that contribute to winning.

Visualize success

One of the best examples of envisioning success came from a platform diver who wasn’t expected to medal but ended up winning bronze. In the post-competition interview he was asked what he did that enabled him to win a medal. He replied, “I don’t know. I just saw myself standing on the podium and then went out and performed my dives.” It doesn’t get more tangible than seeing yourself standing on a podium with a medal around your neck. So however you define it (and for many athletes earning a medal of any color represents a win) visualizing winning is a key ingredient for success.

Set people up to win

I don’t know how much the top medal-winning countries like the U.S., China, Russia, and Great Britain spend on their Olympic athletes. But there’s no question they provide their athletes with the best coaches and training facilities in the world. In business, we don’t necessarily need to build world-class training centers for employees (although that’s not a bad idea!). But we do need to provide the coaching, training, and resources that give them the best chance of winning.

Give timely performance feedback

Did you watch any of the gymnastic or diving competitions? As soon as the athletes completed a routine or climbed out of the pool, they headed straight to their coaches for feedback on their performance. If we want to win, we’d better be giving feedback on a regular basis. If employees have no idea how they’re performing, how can we expect them to get better?

Believe it or not, one of my favorite moments from this Olympics occurred during a TV commercial. Immediately after Rebecca Soni’s record-breaking swim in the 200-meter breaststroke (broadcast tape-delayed during prime time), AT&T ran a commercial about the “new possible.” It showed a young, wet-haired girl intently watching Soni’s swim on a cell phone. At the conclusion of the race, she went to a small white board stuck to her refrigerator and underneath the word “goal” wrote Soni’s winning time of 2:19.59.

Now, every time she opens the refrigerator door (which occurs many times each day for most teenagers), her goal will be staring her in the face. Now that’s a focus on winning!

What are the “refrigerators” in your business, the places where you can post your vision of winning so that you see it several times each day? And what will you write on it? Your answers to these questions may make the difference between winning the gold or not even making the podium.

Call to action: Start a discussion with your direct reports, your team, or your department about how you can get more focused on winning.

image credit: olympics

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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. ( and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

Holly G Green




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