Leadership Lessons from an Olympic Athlete



As you may know, I’m a huge supporter of United Way and have been volunteering with this organization for years. At a recent United Way Tocqueville event in Dallas, I had the rare opportunity to hear Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson speak. As he shared what he had learned from his years of competition in the 200- and 400-meter sprints, I realized how much of what he said applies to leadership – especially to the high performers that I coach.  

Be Better Today Than You Were Yesterday

Sometimes we forget how much we can achieve by taking small steps. In the Olympics, shaving off a fraction of a second can be the difference between winning the gold medal or not — when you won't get another shot for four years. In both your professional and persona lives, taking even five minutes to stop and think about one small thing you can do better than you did yesterday can have a huge impact over time. I’m sure you’ve heard me say by now how small steps can lead to big results.

Have a Race Strategy

Even though sprints are for short distances, they still require careful thought and planning. In the workplace, it can be easy to tell yourself you can tolerate some things for a while, even when you are working crazy hours. When was the last time you sat back and thought about how you really want to achieve your goals? An “all out” strategy may burn you out before you cross the finish line. What one change do you want to make to manage your energy and ensure you have a sustainable approach?

What To Do When Times Get Tough

Everyone hits bumps in the road. Johnson talked about one of his: an injury that kept him from competing. He had skipped some basic steps — consistent stretching and weight lifting — that would have prevented it. What basics do you need to keep in mind to ensure you are getting stronger each day and that you don’t get derailed from what’s most important? For me, it’s making time to reflect so that I can be more strategic, no matter how busy things get.

Another strategy is to simply notice what you have done well and the impact it has had on others. To do that, many of my clients have used an accomplishment log. Reading your log when you feel stuck or when times get tough will help you recognize how much progress you have made.

This week, think about what you can do to invest in your own resilience and long-term performance as a leader, by applying one of Michael's strategies. Read some of the media coverage of Johnson's talk for more inspiration.