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The Unspoken Leadership Lessons From The Olympics

August 20, 2021, 5-min. read
Leadership Lessons From The Olympics

The delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics is over. As athletes return home, and countries decompress from a truly unique games full of competitiveness and record breaking feats of sportsmanship, we thought now would be a great time to analyse what Leadership lessons we could all learn from the Olympics.

From the organization to the funding, from the building of the stadiums to the running of events, their administration and finally the sports themselves, the challenges inherent in running an Olympics (not to mention cost at $15 Billion, making it the most expensive Olympics ever) are truly unique in their breadth and scope. Very few other global events draw so many people, so much attention, and so much pressure on the host city.

To do so while a pandemic still rages requires almost superhuman levels of diligence and leadership.

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The Olympics also represents something more than celebration and victory - for some, even getting a team to the Olympics is a feat of incredible bravery and skill, whilst for others it’s a battle against the odds to compete at the highest level.  

What cannot be ignored is that beyond the sport, many life and leadership lessons can be learned from how the teams acted, how they supported each other, and how they have redefined their corner of the sporting world. Here are some of the unspoken leadership lessons around leadership we’ve learned from the Tokyo Olympics:

Leadership is not determined by Age

  • The Olympics has always had its fair share of prodigious youth talent, and this year was no different. From skateboarding to diving, young athletes put established talent to shame and won a whole host of medals.

  • Watching these mature, incredibly talented individuals should remind us all that talent is learned through discipline, hard work and a single mindedness to succeed. Those attitudes sit at the very centre of what it takes to be a leader. These young athletes are already showing the world they are capable of dealing with the pressure, and winning, as a leader in their field.

Leadership is Inclusiveness

  • The German Women’s gymnastic team made headlines during this Olympic run by changing what they wore to compete in. Despite the fact consumer demand is “not there”, the German team made a point of taking a firm stance against sexualization of women in sport and were widely supported and celebrated for it.
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  • In this regard, the German team pushed the sport into uncharted territory, starting conversations around inclusiveness, tradition and women’s place within sport. This is leadership personified - taking previously staid and stuck traditional thought and applying new, inclusive mindsets to it.

Leadership is Partaking

  • We all rightly celebrate the very best of the best. This year records were broken in some of the world’s hardest sports, but this year’s Olympics was a chance for countries to be represented for the very first time such as: 12 year old Hend Zaza from Syria, representing the country’s first ever Olympian in Table Tennis; Oksana Chusovitina, who at 46 was the oldest Olympic gymnast ever; and the 29 athletes from 11 countries who competed as part of the official Refugee Olympic Team.

  • This is what the Olympics is. Celebrating the widest array of different people and cultures and giving them all the chance to express themselves and compete for the highest sporting accolade.

Leadership is Celebrating together

  • Just taking one look at the female Skateboarders celebrating together after the winning medalists completed their runs tells you everything you need to know about how this community of sportspeople live and breathe their sport.

  • Their camaraderie goes above the sport, and above the competition - this is, again, an essential part of leadership. The ability to celebrate the wins together, putting aside rivalry to remember the great work every competitor is doing.
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Leadership is Learning, Growth and Support beyond the sport

  • There were also tragic moments at this year's Olympics - whether through injury, or mistakes - and renewed conversations around mental health and support for some of the world’s hardest working athletes. Much has been written of Simone Biles’ struggles with “The Twisties” and we only extend our heartfelt love and gratitude she was able to be open about her mental health, and take the time needed to get to doing what she loves.
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  • But critically, for the first time ever brands and associated industry bodies did not see her stepping down from competing as a bad thing. She lost no standing, she lost no money or sponsorship and she was roundly supported for her actions.

  • This is a sea change in how commercial bodies within sport - whose brand awareness and success hinges on these athletes competing - approach mental health. It was leadership in action, taking responsibility to help and support
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