At Potential Squared, we've been reflecting on the leadership skills that have impressed us the most. When Piers Morgan tweeted in his usual inflammatory style, that #onlygoldmatters, he missed the mark completely about how success should be measured. Unsurprisingly, Olympians past and present swiftly put him in his place. The prevailing mood and message of 2016’s competition is a celebration of extraordinary human achievement, and that it can be measured in numerous ways. Years of training lead to a finely- tuned mindset and unique physical talents. Their power extends beyond the glory of the top step of a podium.
This applies to business too. Real talent is showing innovation and courage, the informal daily successes and not just the big wins.
Confidence, conviction and connection
At Potential Squared, we firmly believe in the three Cs: confidence, conviction and connection. There is power in the ability to make connections, overcome adversity and spearhead change. One of the six behaviours behind our approach is to be front-footed and step up to face unexpected situations. We have been continually impressed by the confidence on display in Rio. It’s not just about cool precision. Bold sports people leverage their instinct as well as their training. Some of the most inspiring moments have come from non-medal winners.
The history of the Olympic Games is awash with fearless individuals whose bold actions responded to social unrest at significant personal risk.
Fortunately, many barriers have been broken down in more recent times. However, change does not happen unprompted, and 2016 hasn’t been without controversy. Sports people are still using the Olympic Games as a platform for shifting perception, as much as executing the skills they are there to showcase. And who’s to say that shifting perceptions is any less a success than winning a gold medal.
Brazilian women’s rugby sevens player, Isadora Cerullo, made history off the pitch by becoming the first gay athlete to receive a marriage proposal at the games. It was a bold statement, with a global impact. The couple used their status to promote a message of equality.
An athlete only has a fleeting window of time in the public eye. That moment is an opportunity to capture attention and be a source of inspiration. For some, who defied odds to get there, they know it might be their only shot. David Katoatau, the weightlifter from Kiribati, is proof of that. Despite not winning a medal, he danced after his lift, to make a point about climate change. This was not only pertinent to the issues surrounding his homeland, but it was in the spirit of the message of Rio2016. How many times do leaders address a crowd and get people fired up? Once you’ve reached a certain level, too many to count: but remember that first big opportunity and the difference it made.
Recovering from a challenge
Adopting an agile attitude in the face of challenging circumstances is a big test of professional aptitude. People respect authenticity; we want to know what someone stands for, not just what they are capable of. Dutch cyclist, Anniemieak Van Vleuten, suffered a terrible crash during her road race resulting in broken bones and concussion. It could have been far worse, but for many that might have derailed their spirit as well as their chance to compete. Days later, she reflected on her situation with a positive outlook. After watching a replay of the accident, she told an interviewer, "I prefer to watch the part before the crash. We watched the part where I was riding uphill so well, better than I have ever done before, and that gives me positive energy to continue." It would have been easy for her to have adopted a victim mindset, but instead, she subverted it. The language she uses and where she focuses her attention speaks volumes about her character.
A motivating coach sparks the fire behind every great athlete. However, what about the influence of an exceptional athlete on their teammates? A sports team, much like a corporate organisation, relies on its most dynamic members to encourage the best from those around them.
Let’s take a moment to look at gold medallists; their power lies in their mindset as much as their skills. Simone Biles has been a star of the gymnastics, but her enthusiasm and stadium-side support for her teammates is as infectious as her dramatic performances. American gymnastic silver medallist, Daniel Leyva, told NBC that she was his Olympic inspiration. Supporting those around her while delivering at peak performance, Biles makes a strong organisational role model.
Enjoying the journey
Leadership is not innate; there is a journey. Leaders enjoy the journey and that’s why people follow them. The refreshingly direct candour of the Team GB men’s double badminton team turned the underdog narrative into a source of inspiration and rallying cry for hard work and collaboration.
Leaders look to the collective future, not just their own. They know there will be challenges to face long after they have retired or moved on. There will be falls, but whether they are physical or figurative, how you rise is what people remember. Winning gold medals is wonderful, no one doubts that: but for leaders, there are also many other aspects to be proud of and to focus on. Some of these can really make a transformational difference. As the Bard told us a few hundred years ago: ”all that glisters is not gold”.