Few people have the skill, prowess or dedication that it takes to compete as an Olympic athlete. The competitors are at the top of their field, demonstrating the results of years of hard work, training and focus. While the world of the track and field might seem far removed from that of offices, clients and contracts, we can still learn valuable lessons from the Olympians that translate into our attitude towards other areas of life, not least business and money.
Feeling skeptical? A recent survey by Ameritrade revealed that 65% of U.S. Olympic athletes believe that the discipline they learned through their athletic training has helped improve their discipline around managing their finances. Several athletes have also used the skills and mindset they learned as professional athletes to create their own successful businesses.
We take a look at how they took their mastery and motivation off the track and into the office – and how business leaders and entrepreneurs can do the same.
Olympians in the world of Business
A number of Olympians have moved on after the games to start successful businesses of all shapes and sizes. Some have aimed high, while others have stuck to their passions.
Sebastian Coe is now better-known as a member of the British parliament and a driving force behind bringing the 2012 Olympics to London, but his first passion in life was running. During his athletic career, Coe won four Olympic medals and set 12 world records. After London won the bid for the 2012 Olympics, Coe took his expertise and experience behind the scenes, stepping up as Chairman of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games.
Tatiana Grigorieva is a Russian-born entrepreneur who became a household name when she won the silver medal for pole vaulting in the 2000 Sydney olympics – just three years after she had taken up the sport. After retiring as a professional athlete, Tatiana developed a taste for European treats and now runs an award-winning gelato shop in Australia with her partner.
Michael Klim is another Australian business success, who used his training experiences as entrepreneurial inspiration. Michael won three Olympic medals as a swimmer, and struggled to find a skincare product that counteracted the havoc wreaked on his skin by hours in swimming pools, and Australia’s harsh climate. He decided to create his own remedy, and Milk was born. Today, Milk is sold all over the world, including in the US, UK, China, and Singapore.
How an Olympic attitude can shape your business
Olympians turned entrepreneurs and businessmen are proof that the core skills needed to get to the top of any market or field are the same:
Two types of Olympic event are the most memorable: those where the underdog came out on top, and those where the seasoned pro failed spectacularly. Whatever the outcome, the best athletes succeed because they are resilient. They have the ability to analyze their performance, and use it to improve. Every athlete has days when they perform poorly, but instead of seeing that as a reason to give up, they use it as a learning experience.
Olympians are the top of their field because they work hard, and train with the best. Just as professional athletes need an expert coach to train them to their peak, entrepreneurs and business leaders need to surround themselves with expert mentors or coaches in their field, who will help them fulfill their potential.
Rehearsal and preparation
When preparing for any performance, be it a sporting event or live presentation, rehearsing the event mentally is considered to be just as important as the physical training and practice. Winning athletes and successful business leaders both have the ability to visualize results and work towards them. A world-class hurdler might picture himself successfully clearing every hurdle and reaching the finish line with a personal best. Equally, when business leaders picture themselves giving their next presentation, holding their next meeting, or attending their next client pitch in a positive light, they increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.
Speaking to Ameritrade, US Olympic fencer Mariel Zagunis explained the importance of having tangible goals, and working backwards “Goal setting, belief in your ability to accomplish your goals, and a systematic, step-by-step plan to reach those goals are inherent parts of being successful, really in anything you do.”
Every Olympic athlete begins as an amateur. Yet at some point, each athlete sets him or herself the impressive – and daunting – goal of competing at the Olympics. If these athletes didn’t, they would never have that opportunity: it’s only by setting this goal that they can actually work backwards and plan what they need to do in order to reach it. When running a business, it’s crucial that management know where the company are heading, and why. These goals might shift and adapt as the business develops, but if an organization is not working towards a specific goal, it will never achieve its full potential.
Recognizing and Leveraging Value
Not all athletes are directly paid to participate in the Olympics, yet every participant spends a significant amount of time and money on training and resources to prepare for the event. To compensate, many athletes have to look to other streams of income to support themselves. In doing so, they identify what value they have to offer, and leverage this.
Adopting an Olympic attitude in business strategy
As the Financial Times reported, some Olympic athletes have identified where their value lies, and used opportunities to trade what they have for what they want. The newspaper revealed that athletes have partnered with gadget developers, providing them with information about their physical functions in exchange for free technology that analyzes their sleeping, eating and exercise patterns. Others recognize the value in their reputation and influence, and win lucrative deals that involve endorsing certain brands.
Whatever the field, whatever challenges a business faces, and whatever goals leaders set for the future, these Olympian qualities are an invaluable part of a company’s path to success. When business leaders start to think like athletes, they realize that challenges exist to be overcome. Instead of thinking that the bar is raised too high, they train harder to match it. Instead of thinking that the track contains too many hurdles, they take them one by one, until they reach the finish line.
Written by: Hannah Braime