I was all set to write about Olympians and the leadership lessons we can learn from them, when I read Wally Bock’s latest blog post entitled “4 Reasons Why Being a Boss is not an Olympic Event” Any of you who have been wise enough to read Wally’s stuff will know that he makes good sense just about all of the time…okay, all of the time then.
Having said that, and in spite of the rash of comparisons which will inevitably be made to Olympian behaviour in articles everywhere, I feel somehow compelled to use the Olympics as a springboard for some observations of my own. So, ready or not, here goes.
I think that Olympic athletes exhibit certain attributes that good leaders everywhere share. Often the sum of these qualities is tied up in a neat little package and labeled mental toughness, a phrase that is often open to interpretation.
But if I were to open the Mental Toughness package, I would hope for it to contain something like:
The courage of Nobunari Oda, a figure skater who successfully executed seven triple jumps, faltered when his bootlace unraveled; stopped his program to fix the lace; and then went back to finish in spite of knowing he had lost any hope of winning a medal.
The focus and determination of Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir who began skating together when they were small children and today,hold a vision of the future that has kept them working together ever since.
The motivation of Alexandre Bilodeau who was inspired by his brother to not complain when the going got rough; believe in himself; and simply do his best.
The strength of Joannie Rochette, whose mother died of a sudden heart attack only a few days before her scheduled competition in the Women’s figure skating program and who has chosen to finish what she set out to do and compete anyway.
These examples are illustrations that mental toughness is as much about heart as anything else.
However you interpret mental toughness, to me, without heart it is incomplete. Without heart it becomes something different, stubbornness perhaps or hard headedness, maybe even ruthlessness.
I think this is where the leadership lesson lies. Leaders, like Olympians, cannot afford to disconnect their heads from their hearts. They are inextricably entwined and those who attempt to keep them apart put themselves at risk, as well as those who place their trust in the leadership they provide.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We must combine the toughness of the serpent with the softness of the dove – a tough mind and a tender heart”
I think he was right.
Who do you think of when you hear the phrase mental toughness?