Why Business Has Little To Learn From The Winter Olympics

Feb 25 2014, 5:32am CST | by

Even more so than its summer equivalent, the Winter Olympics – just finished for another four years – offers television sports fans the chance to become obsessive followers of activities they previously barely knew existed. For just a few days, athletes who with few exceptions normally labour well away from the limelight can show the rest of us what talent, nerve and, above all, dedication can achieve. They are held up as shining examples of hard work, resilience and other old-fashioned values so beloved of parents, teachers and the like. The implication is clear: their success is somehow more pure than that enjoyed by the stars of the sports – football (NFL and soccer), baseball, basketball, to name a few – that routinely attract global support and hence huge financial rewards.

But is it really? Olympic medallists are now rather like Hollywood’s Oscar winners in their insistence on thanking their “teams” of coaches, technicians and other providers of specialist services. In the end, though, except for those who really are in teams, it is just them on the podium. And, to a large extent, it is just them who are remembered.

This is quite a contrast with modern business. Sure, we love the tale of the entrepreneur battling against the odds to achieve their dream of bringing their invention to market. Such is the romance of the idea that we often forgive these Olympian-type heroes their foibles. After all, it is widely accepted that only a maverick like the late Steve Jobs could have come up with the iPhone and the string of other products with which Apple has showered us. However, contrary to the public’s impression, the most successful of these visionaries generally work with steadier types. Indeed, venture capitalists often insist on introducing sound business skills to leadership teams before offering backing.

But most businesses are not like that. For a start, they tend to have been around for a while and are quite large. They are there for the long haul, not just involved in a campaign to achieve a certain goal. As such , they require people who are flexible rather than single-minded, prepared to change their approach rather than determined to press on against the odds and interested in a variety of different things, most particularly how people work.

The problem is that Olympic champions are just too extraordinary to be role models for most people. The disconnect between elite athletes and ordinary people is made all the greater by the fact that in recent years the funding provided to the best prospects means that they effectively become full-time sports people. The flipside of all that hard work and dedication is sacrifice – of family life, of friends and of just normal things. Modern organizations are busy making themselves more receptive to the needs and outside interests of their employees, some of whom may want to become pioneering mountaineers or concert pianists – or even successful athletes. But in doing so they need to be careful not to send a signal that only those who are completely dedicated to the cause will succeed. You cannot claim to be serious about “work-life balance” and at the same time imply that going to work is like following a training schedule to run a marathon.

The person who follows such a regime might climb a few rungs on the corporate ladder but they are less likely to succeed in the wider world of business, for the simple reason that business is so complex and unpredictable that leaders need to be agile and responsive rather than just dedicated.

Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last, is just one of many corporate speakers making the point that the best leaders are increasingly looking at how they can support and encourage their colleagues. This is related to the servant leader model, about which I wrote in an earlier post. In particular, it is an example of the growing trend for management thinkers to take inspiration from the military. (Leaders Eat Last is a reference to an explanation given to Sinek for the US Marines’ outstanding reputation. By eating after their men, the officers were showing that they did not see themselves as more important than those they were leading, he was told.)

So, by all means enjoy the Olympics and relish the opportunity to marvel at strange sports – what is it about us Brits that we specialise in sending young women headfirst down icy tracks on tiny sheets of plastic? But be wary of trying to apply much of this to the workplace. For that, as for much of life, team sports are the thing. Look at how the best teams share success, with the goal scorers not singled out. Indeed, thanks to the modern technology used in television graphics and statistics, armchair pundits and not just the real experts can see how hard those who used to be regarded as the journeymen players work for their teams. Soccer, for example, has even borrowed from US sports to credit players with “assists” when they help colleagues to score.

Source: Forbes Business

 
 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

Islamic State biggest threat to our profession: Scribe panel
Cairo, Aug 21 (IANS/EFE) Following the beheading of US reporter James Foley, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has warned that the Islamic State (IS) Sunni extremist organisation operating in Syria and Iraq is one of the biggest threats to journalists.
 
 
Early porn obsession damaging teenagers' brains: Study
London, Aug 21 (IANS) An early exposure to porn and explicit material online can damage teenagers' cognitive abilities, clarity about relationships and studies later in life.
 
 
Indian wines to participate in Vino Ljubljana International Wine Fair
Ljubljana, Aug 21 (IANS) In a bid to introduce and promote Indian produced wines Europe, the country will participate in upcoming Vino Ljubljana International Wine Fair from Sep 4-6 here.
 
 
City spiders getting bigger, multiplying faster
Sydney, Aug 21 (IANS) If you think that the spiders you see in your garden are getting bigger, you are probably right.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

Former Irish PM Albert Reynolds dead
Dublin, Aug 21 (IANS) Former Irish prime minister Albert Reynolds, who played an important part in the Northern Ireland peace process, died Thursday after a long illness. He was 81 and leaves behind his wife Kathleen...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Islamic State biggest threat to our profession: Scribe panel
Cairo, Aug 21 (IANS/EFE) Following the beheading of US reporter James Foley, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has warned that the Islamic State (IS) Sunni extremist organisation operating in Syria and Iraq is...
Read more on Ad Balla
 
Pakistan SC adjourns PTI's case hearing till Friday
Islamabad, Aug 21 (IANS) Pakistan's Supreme Court Thursday ordered the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) to file a concise statement by Friday in relation to the petition filed against the party over its ongoing protests...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Army, militants fighting for control over Syrian airport
Cairo, Aug 21 (IANS/EFE) Fierce clashes broke out Thursday between the Syrian army and militants of the Islamic State (IS) Sunni extremist group on the outskirts of al-Tabaqa military air base, the only bastion still...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Pakistan seeks proof after Afghanistan's terror allegations
Islamabad, Aug 21 (IANS) Pakistan Thursday asked neighbouring Afghanistan to share evidence of its involvement in "insurgent attacks, acts of terrorism, and cross-border shelling", officials said. The comments came...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Saudi Arabia sentences 18 over terror attacks
Riyadh, Aug 21 (IANS) A specialised criminal court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced 18 people to varied prison terms for participating in terrorist attacks within the country, media reported. The men, who were part of a...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Early porn obsession damaging teenagers' brains: Study
London, Aug 21 (IANS) An early exposure to porn and explicit material online can damage teenagers' cognitive abilities, clarity about relationships and studies later in life. According to a recent study by the...
Read more on Apple Balla
 
Two Indians plead guilty to fraud in US
Washington, Aug 21 (IANS) Two Indian nationals on H-1B visas in the US pleaded guilty to taking healthcare benefits by making false claims. Vipinkumar Patel, 30, and Jigar Patel, 27, in the US state of Maryland...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
US town where teenager was shot is calm
Ferguson (Missouri), Aug 21 (IANS) Ferguson town in the US state of Missouri was calm as Attorney General Eric Holder arrived for talks with authorities after police shot dead a black teenager. The St. Louis's suburb...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Indian wines to participate in Vino Ljubljana International Wine Fair
Ljubljana, Aug 21 (IANS) In a bid to introduce and promote Indian produced wines Europe, the country will participate in upcoming Vino Ljubljana International Wine Fair from Sep 4-6 here. However, according to...
Read more on Business Balla