The Winter Olympics have ended – 2+ weeks when we’ve been comfortably ensconced in our toasty homes, living vicariously through hundreds of athletes who are investing body, heart and soul in the cold, wet competitions of their lives. It’s been both thrilling and humbling.
Invariably I end up thinking about my own career, wondering if I could ever invest in my chosen profession all that these athletes do – or if I ever have. Since I’m a former senior executive who now coaches corporate professionals to enhance their leadership capabilities, it makes me wonder: What if there were Olympic Games for Corporate Leaders?
First, we’d need to identify those quintessential “Events” that prove (or disprove) Leadership capability – at least by conventional standards…
For instance, a Management Event where Leaders compete to see who is fastest at motivating a team to achieve difficult goals in a demanding environment.
Add to that a Goal Attainment competition: Who can reach the highest Sales, Expense or Productivity objective before the period ends?
Who’s best at Strategic Planning – developing the most effective plan, then executing it with flawless precision within an unreasonably short period of time?
And let’s not forget Perseverance! Who lasts longest with the best attitude in a relentless, stressful environment?
There would be years of training, grit and determination, with lots of qualifying events to identify the Best of the Best. Then finally – after four years of intense preparation – the whole world would watch the 17 days of competition.
But wait…would the winners of each Event be selected using a panel of (ostensibly objective) judges, and evaluated like figure skaters – i.e. more on whether they tried to achieve particularly difficult feats (even if they stumbled or fell) vs. executing perfectly in less demanding situations? Or would the performances speak for themselves – based on finishing time or pre-determined points assigned to various accomplishments? Would the ‘medals’ for achievements be in the form of compensation or kudos, both or neither? Would former Corporate Olympians serve as spirited commentators, and would the majestic Opening and Closing ceremonies draw audiences from around the world?
It’s fun to think about, but then I wake from my fantasy to face the realities that we all know: Leadership is not a singular event, not an achievement that can be measured in a few minutes or a few days, not composed of individual activities that we can pick and choose – in order to do it right, one has to do it all.
Leaders are judged on performance – and often by standards that are more political than objective. And though we frequently find ourselves in competition with one another, it really should be more about achieving a ‘personal best’ than beating out ‘the other guy.’
But perhaps the biggest distinction between Corporate Leaders and Olympians is that every single Olympian has a story that demonstrates long-term passion, determination and commitment to becoming the very best that s/he can be in the chosen sport.
And I wonder: Can each of us as Leaders say the same?
Do we view our Leadership as purpose, bringing love and focus to what we do each day, or do we see our work as just a job? Do we invest in training and personal development to get better and better, or see learning opportunities as robbing us of time to do our ‘real’ work? Do we see ourselves – and therefore live our professional lives – as role models for Aspiring Leaders who may be inspired to achieve in their own careers when they look at us?
Of course, none of us is perfect, and though Leaders really aren’t Olympic Athletes, wouldn’t our corporations – indeed our world – be much better served if we all behaved that way?
Gold medals anyone?