If you are like me, you have been glued to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. The level of competition is unparalleled and it seems that every day, records are being broken. Yes, I am happy that the United States is doing very well in the games; however, what really amazes me is that not only are all athletes competing at a high level, but they seem to be enjoying themselves like never before.
There is no doubt that Olympians are leaders in their field. They are the best in the world at what they do. Most have a natural ability in their chosen field and as spectators, we are awed at what they are able to accomplish during the Olympic Games. What we don’t see are the hours of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice that go into elevating them from good athletes to the best in the world. As leaders, we can take four lessons from these Olympians on how to become leaders in our own field of endeavor.
Recognize Your Gift
Everybody has a purpose. We all have a unique assignment to fulfill in this kingdom that we call earth. Most of us spend a good portion of our lives trying to discover that purpose. Many Olympians, however, are fortunate enough to do this early in life. I read somewhere that US Olympians Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles got started in their respective sports at the age of six. Both are 19 now and after years of training and dedication are widely recognized as the best in their field. The initial foundation for their success is that they first recognized their gift.
Olympians didn’t achieve their goals by relying on God-given talent alone. They also worked incredibly hard to get to the Olympic Games. I recently read a story about British Olympic Swimmer Molly Renshaw that is a great example of hard work. As a youngster, she would get up early and be at the pool for practice at 5am. She would swim from 5-7am. After that, she would get dressed and go to school. After school, she would do homework for an hour or so and then it was back to the pool for another two-hour practice session. She would then come home and finish her homework and then get ready for bed. She would repeat this routine for eight years before competing in her first Olympic event. While her friends were sleeping or having fun, she was in the pool, working on her craft. This is a common occurrence for Olympic athletes, but for the rest of us, it serves as a shining example of hard work.
Many athletes are gifted in different areas. Former Olympian and current professional basketball player Lebron James is a gifted athlete in general. I read a story the other day where the US National Handball coach said that he could probably be the world’s best handball player in six months if that’s what he decided to do. However, in case you haven’t heard, Lebron happens to be pretty good at the game of basketball. He was exposed to many different sports growing up but decided to focus on basketball at the age of nine. Since then, he has dedicated himself to being the very best in that sport. He is constantly being compared to the legends of the game, all because he decided to put all of his focus in one area. As leaders, we are constantly called on to focus on many different things; however, what Olympians prove is that you can only become a true leader in your field by narrowing your focus.
Enjoy the journey
Michael Phelps is arguably the greatest swimmer of all time. He has a total of 28 medals (23 of them gold) and is a five-time Olympian. At the age of 31 when most Olympians have long since headed into retirement, Michael is still going strong. You could argue that Michael had his greatest success as an Olympian during the 2016 Olympic Games. Why? He made a decision that this would be his last Olympics; therefore, he wanted to enjoy the experience. For the first time, he participated in the opening ceremony (he was even selected by his teammates as the flag bearer) and also served as the captain of the Olympic swim team. He brought the team closer by getting to know each teammate on a personal level, sharing his experiences, and in general helping in any way that he could. He reminded everyone that they had all worked incredibly hard to make the Olympic team and that they should take the time and enjoy the moment. During the competition, you could see everyone enjoying themselves and the experience. The result was one of the best performances by a US Olympic swim team in history. When the team relaxed and just competed, they were able to do their best.
By recognizing your gift, working hard, focusing on your craft, and take the time to enjoy the journey, you too can be a Gold Medalist in the leadership category of the game we simply refer to as life.