Gold Medal Leadership

bigstock--Gold MedalLike so many throughout the world, I have been watching the Winter Olympics and having discussions with my family about the kind of dedication it takes to spend your life working toward a goal that is dependent on a single performance. If you come up short, you have to wait four years for another shot at the prize. Upset stomach, headache, annoyance over some situation, nerves out of control … doesn’t matter … one shot … one chance to bring your very best (well okay, maybe you get three runs in some sports, but still only one day to make your mark.) If your leadership was judged based on your performance on a single day, would you approach the effort differently?

If the leadership gold medal was on the line, would you …

  • Bring your full focus to the task at hand, ignoring the ping of emails, thoughts of looming deadlines, conversations going on around you, or other random distractions?
  • Take extra care in monitoring the external conditions and making adjustments as necessary?
  • Replay the ultimate goal in your head so specifically that you know exactly what success looks and feels like?
  • Step forward boldly, confident in your abilities and your preparation for this moment?

Of course, the only way to make sure that you could do all of those things under pressure — at the moment of truth — is to practice them . . . day in and day out . . . until they become second nature. Sure, there will be days when you fall flat on your face, when you misjudge the environment around you, and when you get distracted from your goal. So you practice some more, improve your skills, and stretch for the next goal. Even gold medalists who continue to compete practice on a daily basis. They don’t get to sit on their laurels just because they had great success on a particular day — the gold medal performance from the last Olympics may not be enough to come out on top today because the bar is continually being raised.

Leadership is not a static skill that you either have or don’t have. It is a continual, competitive journey, and you never know which day is the day that you will be called to go for the gold on behalf of your organization. Of course practice, commitment, and hard work are no guarantee that you will achieve every goal, but without them, it is a pretty safe bet that you and your organization will come up short when you have the opportunity to go for the gold.

Celebrating at the Finish Line

Group of business people celebrating by throwing their business

In the Olympic spirit, take a moment to think back . . . when was the last time you celebrated at the finish line? Like the journey of an elite athlete, many of your efforts are years in the making. They require incredible dedication and hard work, as well as a more than a few sleepless nights. However, unlike an Olympic endeavors, leadership finish lines aren’t always so clear-cut, and there is rarely someone waiting to hang a medal around your neck to recognize your wins. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t celebrate at the finish line.

We all need to take the time to reflect on our accomplishments, and offer our gratitude to those who contributed to the effort. “Need to” is not the same as actually doing it, however. How many times have you merely moved on to the next major project, barely breaking stride as you shifted gears on the way to another impending deadline? Stop. Take a deep breath. Say thank you. Maybe even do a little happy dance. You’ve earned it. More than that, you need it.

Celebrating at the finish line helps recharge your batteries. It provides an opportunity to reflect on all you and your team have accomplished, which in turn motivates you to accomplish even more. It’s a chance to rally the troops and ride the wave of excitement from one victory to give you a head start on the next. With all the positives the come from celebrating at the finish line, why don’t we do it more often?

For starters, there is so much on your plate. You don’t have time to “play” . . . right? Well yes, I’m sure it’s been years since you have seen the bottom of your to-do list. One afternoon won’t derail your progress toward the next big thing, but it can make a huge difference in how much you enjoy the ride. Take a few moments to celebrate at the finish line.

But what kind of example does that set for your staff? If you expect them to work hard, you need to do the same, right? Besides, budgets are crazy tight and you can’t afford a big celebration. Okay. I’m fairly certain you have the example of hard work down pat. Maybe you need to work on the example of recognizing a job well done. It doesn’t have to cost a lot. Ever hear of waffle cone Wednesday, or half price appetizers, or goofy games? You can get noise makers and confetti for a song.

The work you do is important, and it is a leader’s job to keep the flame burning in their people so you all can go on to accomplish even more. Celebrate at the finish line.