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Manage Like an Olympian

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Watching the 2018 Winter Olympics, I couldn’t help but be inspired by the passion, the grit, and the sportsmanship that seemed to pervade every Olympian in every event. What's more, I noticed how every athlete seemed to be part of something bigger, part of a team.

Sure, we know that ice hockey is a team sport. And we certainly saw teams in other events, including curling and speed skating. But even the individual sports, such as skiing or snowboarding, are chock full of teamwork. At the Olympics, there's also a focus on the country you represent—not just the sport. Athletes from one sport routinely show up to support one another at their events. Snowboarders cheer for cross country skiers, skaters root for bobsledders, and so on. It’s a mutual admiration society.

Every athlete who won a medal also mentioned another important team—their personal support team. From the parents that drove them to practice when they were kids, to the coaches who inspired them to do their best. Every single competitor was clear that it takes more than just their raw talent to put them on the Olympic podium.

It’s often tempting in the business world to focus on ourselves as individuals. With average tenure slipping lower every year, many of us know that we will probably not be in our current roles forever. In fact 81 percent of employees would take a new job if the offer was better, and 56 percent are planning to actively look for a job within the next 6 months. This is important because the result is that we don’t always feel like our organization or our current colleagues are part of our team.

But as humans, we’re not hardwired to work alone. We’re social by nature, and our main evolutionary talent has been our ability to work together, using our combined brainpower to create tools that enable us to survive more efficiently than some of the better equipped predators on the planet. Indeed, collaboration is in our DNA. Teamwork is how we roll.


So what can we learn about managing our careers and leading teams from the Olympic athletes? Here are just a few takeaways:

Root for everyone. When someone else succeeds, cheer them on. Create an environment where wins are celebrated. Help people back up when they fall down.


Coaches are key. While coaching is a growing resource for executives, it’s still not as common as it should be for new and emerging managers. Every athlete has a coach—someone who helps them define their progression, brings expertise to the table, helps identify strengths, and provides motivation.

Buy into the team. Even if you don’t think you’ll be in your current role, or even at your current job forever, that doesn’t mean you should check out. It’s a small world, and the people you work with today will probably still be part of your professional circle in the future. Commit to being a great team-mate even if you think you’re on your way out the door.

Most of us are unlikely to be in the Olympic games, but after watching some of the most intense competition, combined with the highest levels of enthusiasm, I think we could do a lot worse than to bring some of that spirit back to our own workplaces!

About the Author

Katy Tynan is the bestselling author of practical guides to career transitions, and an internationally recognized expert on how work is evolving. In a world where 70 percent of employees are disengaged, Katy helps organizations ditch out of date management practices and create an inspiring, engaging culture.

Over her 20 year career in IT and operations consulting, Katy has advised hundreds of organizations on how to find innovative solutions leveraging technology and human capital for competitive advantage. Katy has been part of multiple successful startup exits including Winphoria Networks (acquired by Motorola in 2003) and Thrive Networks (acquired by Staples in 2007).

Katy is currently Managing Director of CoreAxis Consulting, a leading talent strategy and elearning and training firm based in Boston, Massachusetts. Katy is the author of Survive Your Promotion! The 90 Day Success Plan for New Managers, and her most recent book Free Agent: The Independent Professional's Roadmap to Self-Employment Success.

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