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5 Leadership Lessons from the Winter 2018 Olympics

What Olympic Athletes Can Teach about Career Success

As many of the world’s top athletes gather in PyeongChang, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics, their incredible skills will capture the attention of people worldwide. But what’s even more compelling than the fastest bobsled race, highest ski jump, or most elegant figure skating program is the Olympic spirit that runs through the athletes’ stories.

Olympians draw their inspiration from a set of core values that prepare them to do their best as they compete, and to respond gracefully to whatever happens as a result of their best efforts. Each of those Olympic values relates to the timeless values of leadership that is fueled by well-being. Olympic athletes are known for their strength because they take good care of their well-being – body, mind, and spirit – to excel as leaders in their sports. No matter what type of work you do, you can grow stronger and excel at it by learning Olympic values as you watch this Winter Olympics. Choose work that aligns well with your personal strengths and interests. Then enjoy it! U.S. speedskater Maame Biney started figure skating as a girl. But a teacher told Biney and her father that she was skating too fast and recommended switching to speed skating. She followed that teacher’s advice and discovered something she loved to do and could do well. Now Biney — who is known for smiling while she trains — prioritizes having fun. Here’s how:

1. Love what you do. Choose work that aligns well with your personal strengths and interests. Then enjoy it! U.S. speedskater Maame Biney started figure skating as a girl. But a teacher told Biney and her father that she was skating too fast and recommended switching to speed skating. She followed that teacher’s advice and discovered something she loved to do and could do well. Now Biney – who is known for smiling while she trains – prioritizes having fun. “I just hope to have fun and not overstress about my results or how I’m going to do or what everyone’s going to think,” she has said going into this Winter Olympics. “ … I just hope to have fun and enjoy my Olympic experience.”

2. Do your best with every opportunity. The International Olympic Committee states that excellence is one of the core values around which the Olympic movement is constructed. Olympians strive to put their best effort into each practice and competition, no matter what type of circumstances they may be facing at the time. Olympians are known for their hard work – practicing their sport over and over again to develop their skills to the highest level possible. U.S. freestyle skier Ashley Caldwell recently shed light on this pursuit of excellence when she said, “This has always been my mentality: Why win with less when you can win with more? I don’t want to go out there and show the world my easiest trick. I want to show the world my best trick, me putting everything on the line to be the best.”

3. Respect and encourage your teammates. Olympians respect each other’s value as people, and also as team players who make valuable contributions to each other. Olympic athletes gather from around the world to compete, and in the process they form friendships based on mutual respect. They watch each other work hard, encourage each other, and make sacrifices to support each other. The U.S. ice dancing team Alex and Maia Shibutani are a brother/sister duo who are known for their close bond with each other, their coach, and their team of supporters. They’re very active on social media, and Maia wrote in a blog that, “Together, we have been through so much. Becoming Olympians was a dream come true, but once we accomplished that, we decided to set new goals heading into this Olympic cycle. Our main goal was to become the best team we could be.”

4. Approach both success and failure gracefully. Whether they win or lose, Olympians often respond with graceful attitudes that inspire others to consider what matters most: not the results of a single event, but the character of the person competing in it. They relish each big moment rather than allowing the stress of it to overwhelm them. U.S. snowboarder Shaun White has experienced both thrilling success (such as the perfect run that helped qualify him for his fourth Olympics) and crushing failure (like missing out on any type of medal at the last Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia). The ups and downs of snowboarding don’t take place only in a halfpipe – they take place in the minds of athletes who experience wildly different results. White has learned grace from those ups and downs, he has said. “I’m walking into it [the 2018 Olympics] with a better peace of mind and a better outlook on things … I’m just hoping to show up and ride like I know I can, put the runs down. If I can do that, I’m totally content.”

5. Keep learning and growing. Olympic athletes are constantly learning from their experiences and growing to become stronger people as a result. U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn has suffered many crashes and injuries over the years of her career. But she hasn’t let any of her scars stop her from progressing to become one of the world’s top skiers. Vonn has famously said, “When you fall, get right back up. Just keep going, keep pushing it.” She has also said, “You are only limited to what you push yourself to, you know? You can always get better.”

Watching the 2018 Winter Olympics can be much more than just a fun experience for you. It can be an inspirational time full of teachable moments that help you develop stronger leadership skills. Whether or not you ever win gold medals, you’ll succeed at your work when you learn Olympic values!

Whitney Hopler works as Communications Director at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being (CWB) and has written for many media organizations, from About.com to the Washington Post. Connect with Whitney on Twitter and connect with CWB on Twitter and Facebook.

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