What Olympians and Leaders Share in Common. Awaken Your Inner Olympian!

Portrait of ecstatic young athletes together with medals. Group of runners standing together smiling with their hands raised
Portrait of ecstatic young athletes together with medals. Group of runners standing together smiling with their hands raised in excitement on racetrack on a bright sunny day.

The Rio Games are finally here! I will soon travel there to watch some of the best athletes in the world in action and see how they inspire the world with their endurance and drive. I will also work with outstanding leaders in sport management to create a positive impact. Before I go, let me share how YOU can discover your Inner Olympian and create the best results for you and your team. I truly believe we can all unleash the power of our talent, drive and passion to achieve our boldest goals!

In my 14 years experience as a communications and leadership coach working with leaders in sports and business, I've championed sport as a unique way of having a positive impact on society. To date, my work has taken me to 76 countries and I've coached both Olympians and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Did you know that 95% of Fortune 500 top executives participated in athletics/sports in high school?

So what can we learn from Olympians? It's possible that we, as leaders and professionals in our field, can develop what it takes to be an "Olympian" in our organizations and societies. Just as the majority of business leaders can learn a great deal from elite athletes, it's true that professional sportsmen and women have the ingredients to become great leaders in business and society.

There are outstanding parallels between high performance sportsmen/women and leadership. To me, there are 3 of these parallels that are essential:


Grit. Grit is even stronger than resilience. It is the stubborn refusal to quit. It includes the strongest commitment to finish what you start, to rise from setbacks, to dust off after a fall, to want to improve and succeed. A person with grit undertakes repeated and sometimes unpleasant practice in order to do so. Over and over. Athletes do so. Roger Federer, perhaps the best male tennis player that this sport has seen, said after a recent defeat: "This loss only fuels my desire to go back to the practice courts and come back even stronger". Grit and a sense of high resilience is something that great leaders develop after times of trouble to get back on track and overcome challenges.

Focus on strengths. We live in a society that often fosters support and offers help to reduce or cope with weaknesses. Though in fact, further development of our talent can actually give us a competitive advantage. Serena Williams, the most successful woman in tennis today says, "Success in sport has nothing to do with luck. Stick to your goal and work hard". In leadership this principle applies too. There are no shortcuts to true success and great leadership.

Listen. Keep listening. Professional athletes listen to the people who support them and are open to feedback from people who share their vision and commitment (coaches, mentors, teammates, etc.). As a leader you can't afford to stop listening. In fact, statistics indicate that the higher up you rise in an organization, the less feedback you will get. Sometimes hierarchy makes people find it riskier or uncomfortable to give feedback. So our job as leaders and professionals is to continue to listen, stay open to what is shared and take it into account. That's essential for Olympians to play in the highest leagues. Eliminating our blind spots gives us more chances for development.

Now, as I pack my bags to venture forth in this amazing experience at the Rio Olympic Games, I leave you with a quote by Muhammad Ali: "Champions aren't made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them a desire, a dream, a vision." - What's yours?

Ready, steady...RIO!


Gabriela Müller Mendoza

Executive & Organizational Communications Coach -Trainer- Speaker
Global Leadership Specialist - Diversity and Inclusion in Organizations
"Unlocking full potential and dissolving barriers to excellence"
Bern, Switzerland. www.powerful-change.com
Twitter @gabrielamueller