Lessons from the Olympics for bosses and employees

Imagine the parents of a child with no legs below the knee encouraging his dream of running in the Olympics. Most people would consider the parents crazy, or even cruel to encourage such a child – until they saw Oscar Pistorius at the Olympics.

Now apply that lesson to the economy. “Some could say our economy from being abled with great schools, wonderful universities, and a wealth of resources is losing its legs,” Liza van Wyk, CEO of AstroTech, a national training organisation in Johannesburg said.

“We have school books that have still not been delivered, corruption in abundance, deterioration in the quality of some of our universities, political instability, an economy that has slowed, and a population desperate for opportunities to improve their lives. The list of our needs are daunting, unless we use the lessons of the Olympics, and the challenges some of our athletes faced, yet still triumphed.”

These are the lessons from Team AstroTech:
• Don’t use traditional methods to assess risk it can often dishearten you, and lead you to stop before you even begin. Van Wyk advises, “Do risk assessment then look at ways to take on the challenge. Have a plan B and C in case plan A fails. Be optimistic.”

• Disappointment and challenges are inevitable, meet them head-on and refuse to be discouraged. “Caster Semenya should have bowed out of competitive sport a long time ago after facing many obstacles. Two things helped, she has remarkable spirit, and she has a powerful support network around her.”

• Ignore those who tell you others do it better and you’ll never beat their success. “The South African Olympic rowing team would not have moved off Wemmer Pan if they had listened to the critics. Instead they brought home a gold. Hard work, persistence, innovation, and self- belief are powerful tools to success.”

• Ignore gloomy experts. “No one predicted the financial crisis, which means none will see the turn-around when it comes,” Van Wyk says, “There’s a cliché that when times are tough, the tough get going. The powerful make their fortunes in bad times, when others are pessimists, they are optimists. They study the negatives, and build on the positive. They are investing when the nervous are holding back.”

• Don’t be limited or deterred by rules or regulations. One-hundred metre gold medal winner, Usian Bolt of Jamaica complained of to many rules at the Olympics, but he still got a gold. “Bolt did two things, even though frustrated he remained focused on the end goal –winning. He then used his success to publicize unnecessary rules, and to get them changed. Businesspeople can work with government agencies to get rules changed, while keeping their eye on the prize: success.”

• Short-term sacrifices can lead to big wins. Olympic rowing gold medalist Sizwe Ndlovu gave up his job in computer programming three years before the Olympics to follow his dream. “Short term sacrifices lead to lots of criticism. People may say why are you doing this, things are looking good, what will you do for money; say if you don’t achieve your goal? Smile, thank them for their concern, and persist.

Believe in yourself and your dream sufficiently to take a risk. Establish a good support network to help you achieve your goals, and then do the hard work. Sacrificing for a dream will mean lots of work, little pay, long hours, exhaustion, tears, frustration, but if you keep in your head the final goal, and never stop working toward it, your chances of success are greater,” Van Wyk counsels.

• Study your competition, examine everything you admire about them, emulate some of their successes and know how you can improve on them. Chad le Close did this with Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps, his hero, and at the 2012 Olympics he beat his hero. “Business has a long history of giants being surpassed by cheeky little upstarts. One only has to look at the history of IBM, Microsoft, Apple, and Samsung to realize the truth of that. You might be small today, and a struggling nobody, but work hard enough and tomorrow you could be the hero.”

• Take every opportunity to shine. Remember the words of Cameron van den Burgh who became the first South African to win gold at these Games. He said after his record-winning swim: "Tonight, as I came in, I said to myself, 'a man can change his stars, you can write your own destiny tonight'. I had my chance and I took it."

Van Wyk said, “every month we train hundreds of managers, support staff, and top executives, most of them walk through our doors anxious about their future and the state of their companies, and the economy. We act as their coaches, but the greatest coach will fail if he or she is trying to motivate a person who doesn’t believe in himself, who is not prepared to take risks, work hard, get up smiling after setbacks, find new ways to restrategise, develop stronger support networks, and know, “a man [or woman] can change his stars.” We’re proving it at the Olympics, now let’s prove it at home in every workplace. Team AstroTech salutes our Olympians.”

Liza Van Wyk, CEO Astrotech

By Charlene Smith

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