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4 Leadership Lessons From Canada's Olympic Team

Are there leaders in your organization who are holding people back? How can you develop them so that they are investing in others for the greater good of the team and the company?
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The 2014 Olympic Games have been such a source of Canadian pride, it is difficult to go anywhere and not hear stories of our team's sportsmanship, caring and fun. From the beer fridge that only opens with a Canadian passport, to the Canadian coach who helped a Russian skier complete his race with dignity, to an Olympic qualifier giving his spot to a teammate, stories of Canada's team in the Sochi Olympics are being told around the world.

I can't help but think about how these stories translate into lessons for developing great leadership and culture in organizations. Here are a few lessons I see.

1. Create a Rallying Cry

In 2010, the Own the Podium campaign started in Canada. For the first time that I could remember, there was a feeling of excitement and anticipation going into the Vancouver Olympics. We were contenders. We had a pride that extended beyond hockey into all of the sports and all of our athletes. This year, #WeAreWinter is a hashtag and rallying cry that resonates across our country and across social media.

In your organization, is there one purposeful, prideful statement that your employees can rally behind? Something they believe in and that is simple enough to be used daily? I think of Westjet's "Owners Care" ads -- if you've flown Westjet, you have likely come into contact with a Westjet employee who acts differently from those at other airlines -- they actually do care. They actually do act like owners. This simple phrase is demonstrated in their daily decisions and behaviors.

What's your cultural rallying cry?

2. Be exclusive

The beer fridge says it all. Free beer! Only to those with a Canadian passport... When I first saw the "Scan your passport" Molson ad campaign start last year, I wanted so badly to travel to Europe (with my country's flag sewn into my backpack, of course) and try it out! To be one of the exclusive few in the world who can access this free beer... how cool would that be?

It should be exclusive to get into your company. You should hold the bar high and know exactly what you're looking for. Your company's culture should be strong enough and distinct enough that your people know your values and it is clear to see who fits through an interview process. By creating a level of exclusivity, you find the best people for your organization. You create pride for those who gain access.

Have you made it difficult enough to "get in"? What does your "passport" look like? How are your values distinct and demonstrable?

3. Give Your Team Opportunity

When Gilmore Junio gave his spot in the 1000 meter speed skating event to teammate Denny Morrison, and Denny won Silver, we celebrated the medal and the generosity and leadership behind it. Junio thought Morrison would have a better shot and gave his spot to him for the good of the team and the country, without envy or selfishness.

It is so important for leaders to give their teams the opportunity to develop, grow and shine. Very often, managers think they are the only ones who can do the job right, or that they need to make the important decisions. Oftentimes, leaders think they should be the one receiving the glory. Kirstine Stewart, the head of Twitter Canada, shared her views on the importance of leaders investing personal capital at a recent event in Toronto. She talked about sharing credit and power with people, and how that helps to develop stronger people and leaders. As Junio and Morrison showed this week with a Silver medal, this type of investment benefits the entire team.

Are there leaders in your organization who are holding people back? How can you develop them so that they are investing in others for the greater good of the team and the company?

4. Demonstrate Care and Respect

When the Canadian Cross Country Ski team Coach Justin Wadsworth rushed onto the track to give the Russian skier a ski to replace his broken one, people around the world were touched. This demonstration of caring and respect exemplifies part of what I think makes us Canadian. We're more complex than stereotypically polite, but there is a sense of treating others with respect and dignity does tend to permeate much of our culture, and is often more obvious when we travel to other countries.

Caring about each other elevates teamwork and engagement. The care that you show your team will be reflected in the care they give their customers. In many workplaces, we have policies about "respect in the workplace" but they really do little more than to combat disrespect in the workplace. True respect in the workplace comes from a place of genuinely caring about others. Sometimes we need a reminder that our employees are humans, not just human resources.

Do your leaders genuinely care about their teams and customers?

We're mid-way through the 2014 Olympics, and I can't wait to see what else we can learn from these amazing leaders representing their country. What other workplace lessons have you learned from your country's Olympic athletes? Please share in the comments below.