18 October 2019 - Article
Following on from last week's blog looking at what employers can learn from the Winter Olympics and Paralympics, now is the turn of employees.
Overcoming adversity – We are used to the inspirational and tear-jerking back-story to many a summer Olympian and Paralympian, but their Winter counterparts take it to a new level. A serious number of competitors from international superstars to domestic favourites start their interviews by explaining how they have recovered from very serious injury in training or competition to make a comeback: Rowan Cheshire, Penny Coombes Shaun White, Lindsay Vonn and Millie Knight amongst others – never call any of these a snowflake!. Repeated broken bones, concussions, horrifically traumatic events all recounted with almost a shrug of resignation that this is a fact of life. They pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get back to training. We all have knocks in our professional lives and learning how to rehabilitate, get back to full fitness and recover confidence is a very difficult but key skill.
There are many ways to win and lose – The brutal and sometimes inexplicable carnage of short track speed skating reminds us all that risk-taking can sometimes pay great dividends but, equally, to go for gold can result in a devastating slide into the barriers and out of the competition. In work too it is worth constantly evaluating the situation and deciding whether taking a risk is worth it or not, and indeed whether not taking a risk is in fact a safe approach or will just result in a mediocre and forgettable outcome.
Every second of effort counts – After just under 36 minutes of gruelling effort in the biathlon Martin Fourcade took gold on the line in a photo finish. Similarly, the Canadian and German two man bob teams just couldn't be separated, their combined times over four runs being exactly 3:16.86, each winning a gold medal. The margins between success and failure are for most of us mercifully not usually measured in thousandths of seconds, but not giving full commitment to a task can result in a sub-optimal result. Prioritising and focussing on key targets is therefore essential to avoid spreading yourself too thin.
Deal with the politics – My heart goes out to the members of the South Korean ice hockey team who missed out on their Olympic experience when their team was merged into a combined Korean team and some had to give way to their new colleagues from the North. Although the IOC repeatedly insist that the Olympics are not to be used as a platform for politics, this may not ring true with these South Korean athletes, however useful it may have been on a wider level to have a joint team. Politics are however a fact of life in the workplace, and sometimes, despite all the right preparation, incidents outside our control will intervene. The only thing to do is to take one for the team, refocus and move on.
Know who you are and stick to it – So many athletes are media trained within an inch of their lives and deliver almost robotic interviews thanking their coaches and sponsors and with trite truisms about just doing their best. Not Elise Christie. No filter whatsoever. What you see is what you get, truth and tears. It is endearing and inspiring and her passion for what she does shines through. Whilst it is easy for many to get behind her, just as many criticise her for her lack of success despite investment and opportunity. Similarly, Elizabeth Swaney, the US-born halfpipe skier, now representing Hungary was a controversial figure in Pyeongchang. Determined to go to the Olympics she realised that a loophole in the rules meant that if she did not fall in competitions, she could qualify – which she duly did. Both athletes divide opinion for very different reasons, but in each case they are very focussed on what they want to achieve and going out and pursuing it. Both have faced heavy criticism that may have crushed those with less inner strength and put many off the sport altogether. In the workplace, employees need to deal with not being liked or appreciated by everyone and with facing sometimes quite deep criticism. Whilst everyone needs to learn and to grow, sticking to your plan and to your guns and maintaining your inner strength is important and endless attempts to reinvent yourself to try to fit in with everyone around you and their expectations may not pay dividends in the end.