Olympic athletes dazzle us with their physical abilities, but it turns out that landing a spot on the podium depends largely on other factors. One gold medalist explains why, and what that means for leaders.
Olympians aren’t necessarily the most physically gifted people in the world, but they do have something that less-accomplished athletes do not: heart. If anyone knows this to be true, it’s Adam Kreek. Adam won gold for Canada at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, rowing in the men’s eights. He is also a successful entrepreneur and motivational speaker. To lead like a gold medalist, adopt his techniques for winning.
1. Practice with your entire being
The old saying “practice makes perfect” isn’t quite right. As Kreek’s former teammate and Olympic gold medalist Ben Rutledge says, “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” In other words, for your practice to bring about the results you seek, you must focus on it with your entire being; you must be in the moment and not distracted by outside concerns. Following this approach will engrain the power of habit and skill into your unconsciousness, creating the highest levels of achievement.
2. Be your best self
Instead of focusing too hard on winning, focus on the most important goal for anyone in business: being your authentic, best self. The heat of competition exposes our best and our worst qualities, while challenging us to answer questions such as “Have I done all I can do to prepare? How hard am I really willing to work to achieve my goals? What is stopping me from being my best self?” According to Kreek, “If you search for your authentic, best self during competition, you will find it. Victory often comes along for the ride as a pleasurable side effect.”
3. Shift when necessary
It’s no secret that emerging competition and rapid advances in technology are driving equally rapid changes in business markets. If you aren’t ready and willing to shift when these changes hit, you will almost certainly be left behind. When Kreek experienced terribly painful herniated disks in his back just six months before the 2008 Olympics were set to begin, his sports psychologist, Bruce Pinel, gave him the following advice: “The goal remains; the path has just changed.” Kreek kept his eye on his goal while he changed his workout regimen, adopting a different path that ultimately led him to a gold-medal performance.
4. Distinguish between solvers and sympathizers
Instead of trying to hide your challenges or sweep them under the rug, get in the habit of communicating them to your team. By doing so, you will obtain important advice, ideas, and support that you would not otherwise get. According to Kreek’s father, there are two kinds of people, solvers and sympathizers, and each needs to be talked to in a different way. “Talk about the depths of your pain with solvers, and talk about the solutions you are taking to solve your pain with your sympathizers,” says Kreek’s father. Each provides an important piece of the puzzle, and together they will help you overcome your challenges more quickly.
5. Drive total team commitment
Highly effective teams require buy-in. Members may not always agree with every decision, but once a decision is made, each team member must commit to it fully. Kreek offers this mantra: “I choose to commit 100 percent to the philosophy, goals, and outcome of my team. I commit to my role on this team.” Listen to your boss and your teammates and trust them, and distance yourself from the opinions of people outside your team who might distract you from achieving your goals.
6. Find mentors who will challenge you
A good mentor or coach will be honest about your performance and will ask you extremely powerful questions. Says Kreek, “These questions drill down into our core and uncover the deeper motivation we need for world-class success.” But mentors and coaches don’t just help you uncover your motivations; they also offer you the benefit of their own knowledge and experience, and they support and challenge you to achieve your greatest goals. The best ones can help you achieve things you never thought possible.
7. Be a mentor yourself
You have the power to help your people achieve their goals, and when you lead like a gold medalist, that’s exactly what you will do. Mentor the members of your team who need mentoring, support those who need support, motivate those whose motivation is lacking, and provide training and other resources to those who need it. As a boss, you are in the best position to help the members of your team achieve peak levels of performance. Now, commit yourself to that task with all your heart. The heart of a gold medalist.