At a business event last week, I was amazed to hear a company owner refer to Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington as “a failure” for “only” winning a bronze medal. His view is not a common one but is also far from rare and I wonder, if the roles were reversed, how those pointing the finger at high performing athletes might stand up if the performance of their own business was put under the same microscope?
There is a disease in business. The symptoms are easy to spot. They are visible in the business which is doing okay but shows no desire to do better, or the company owner who dreams of success but doesn’t like the idea of working too hard. Then there is the symptom which shows itself in working exceptionally hard without generating forward momentum and there is the organisation which has a plan but which never challenges the quality of said plan.
Of course, none of these symptoms will be showing in your own company, but you will recognise them, you will have seen them elsewhere. Sometimes you even point them out to friends and colleagues. But, seriously, when was the last time you looked in the mirror?
I mean really looked?
I mean, how does how you plan for your business, how you organise your life, how you go about your business compare with the way an elite sportsperson does those things?
Watching the Olympics and Paralympics on television (or, for the lucky few, live) you will not see the equivalent of most of the businesses you meet every day. They are the park footballers, the three times a week squash players and the daily jog around the block. They can perform but have never found out how well they can perform. They are the business which is doing okay but, if they could be bothered, should be doing a lot better.
You won’t see anyone performing in the Olympic Stadium who dreamt of success but bottled it (or sought excuses) when hard work beckoned. Conversely, neither will you see athletes who went out and trained as hard as they could without first checking it was the right training of the right quality at the right volume at the right frequency with sufficient specificity to get them where their dreams desired.
The world is full of talented athletes who followed a plan and did everything it asked of them but who never made the Olympic team. Far rarer are those sportspeople who didn’t only do everything their plan asked of them but also made sure to do it well. Then there is that tiny minority who don’t just plan but who plan well, who also regularly review the plan to ensure it is taking them to the desired destination.
Which of these athletes is your business?
Would you qualify for the Olympic trials? Would you qualify for the Olympic team? Would you make the Olympic final? And if you would make the final, would you win a medal?
As for the disease I mentioned earlier, its name is mediocrity. You don’t see it in the Olympic Games, what you are watching is the elite few, the pinnacle. But you do see the disease far too frequently in business. In fact you don’t have to look very hard to see it every day.
While watching the Olympics, don’t forget to take a long look at your business in the mirror. Instead of criticising those who come so close to the peak of Mount Olympus they can almost touch it, think.
Think; what you can learn from these exceptional individuals about performance and about excellence. Think; what learning can you apply to your business. Think; how can you stand apart from the crowd infected with mediocrity.
And don’t be afraid to ask for help. No one ever won an Olympic medal without seeking the right expert advice along the way!
Strategy Consultant and Speaker Jim Cowan, is a former athlete and elite level coach who has worked with elite sportspeople around the world including a world record holder, a world champion, world medallists and numerous international athletes. By merging the lessons from elite sport with traditional corporate strategy models, Jim delivers performance strategy for businesses who aim to excel. Or, as Jim puts it; “if your performance doesn’t bother you, please don’t call!”
© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, August 2012