What can London 2012 teach us about sustainable success?

As the dust settles on the London 2012 Olympic Games and the winter nights draw in, it’s easy to forget just what a magnificent summer we had. But it hasn’t stopped there – the legacy of the Games will be felt for years to come.

But what can businesses learn from London 2012 about lasting success? Dominic Mahony, Olympic team leader for GB Modern Pentathlon for the past four Olympic Games and client services manager for Lane4, shares his top lessons from London 2012.

Clear vision, common purpose

London 2012 had a very clear vision – not only putting on the greatest show on Earth to showcase our talented athletes, but also to inspire a generation. At the closing ceremony, Lord Coe said: “Thanks to the athletes, young people know it is possible to triumph over adversity, to challenge and then change their circumstances and to achieve great things. These were Games for everyone – Games for people of all faiths, cultures, and backgrounds that connected millions of young people with sport and education in communities and cities around the world.”

With such a clear and inspiring vision, it wasn’t difficult for us all to get behind Team GB. Business leaders can learn a lot from this – how does your corporate vision, or mission statement, stand up against this? Are you able to unite all the individuals that work for your organisation with a common sense of purpose? Financial targets and goals can be uninspiring – and even intimidating – to some, but you can remind people of the meaning of their work, lifting them from the day to day and reconnecting with the purpose and values of the organisation. Let the dedication and hard work of the 70,000 volunteering Games Makers be an inspiration – they were all united for a common purpose, and so can your employees.

Talent identification and development

The success of Team GB was not a flash in the pan. It was the result of 15 years of consistent investment in excellence that allowed 26 sports to put in place long-term talent identification and development programmes that will continue to guarantee success at future Olympic Games.

Business leaders can learn from this – you need to invest in the long-term success of your organisation through your people. Invest in their development and their talent and find ways to stretch and challenge them to perform. But consider your assessment and identification programme carefully – the world is changing at pace, and the skills and competencies your recruit for now may well be completely defunct in five years’ time. In sport, we also assess an athlete’s learning mindset and resilience – their ability, and attitude towards learning new things and being able to not only cope with but thrive in pressured situations. These are skills that your employees will need as well, and can help ensure the future of your organisation.

Make the most of your successes

It is said that you learn a lot from your failures, but you can also learn a lot from your successes. Understanding your strongest skills is important, so that you are able to use them in the future. London was able to project-manage the most complex construction and event delivery programme the country had ever seen, and did it safely, on time and within budget. We utilised our existing skills as a country to demonstrate to the rest of the world what we are capable of. The reputational impact for our civil engineering and construction industries has been significant, demanding a greater worldwide respect for British construction firms. What are your skills as an organisation and are you making the most of them? Can you capitalise on the skills of your workforce or your products to ensure your position in the marketplace is as strong as it could be?

The role of the leader

The coaches and team managers of Team GB had very clear goals – to define the performance required to win; create the environment for the athletes to succeed, and then get out of the way and let them perform. Too often in business, a leader (whether a business leader or a team/departmental leader) can become too involved in the day to day work of their employees and not give them the space, and empowerment, to do a really good job.

As team leader of GB Modern Pentathlon, I saw my role as removing as many distractions as possible from all those responsible for performance on the field of play. As the Games get bigger – cycle by Olympic cycle – so do the distractions, and hence my job. The contracts, sponsor involvement, media interest, friends and family all are important parts of the whole and yet have the potential to impact performance. I was able to “shield” our athletes from aspects of the Games that would not be beneficial to them on match day, creating an environment for them to purely concentrate on how they needed to be to perform well.

Leaders in business need to focus on the bigger picture – what does success look like for the organisation, and what environment needs to be in place in order to lead to this success? Leaders need to do everything possible to create this environment – and then be humble enough to step back and let their employees take centre stage and perform. The prize is to stand behind them as they take the podium and know you have done your job well.

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