Olympian-Style Leadership

The best way to move on is to acknowledge that moving on is hard. She put her disappointment on the table next to reporters’ recorders and let it breathe. [Olympian-Style Leadership] ~Michael Rosenburg, SI

I’m not an athlete, and truth be told, I’m not even a sports fan. But, I’ll admit there is something about Olympic athletes that I find especially compelling. They are hyper-focused. They train intensely for an opportunity that only comes around every four years. For most, all of that intensity culminates in a performance that lasts for mere minutes.

Examples of Olympian-Style Leadership

Skier Mikaela Shiffrin, a highly decorated champion of her craft. Literally, the best in her field. But even the best falter and experience disappointment, as she did this week in the first 11 seconds of the giant slalom. Her response to the media was honest and showed her true character. She didn’t scramble for excuses or things to blame. As the SI reporter stated so vividly, “She put her disappointment on the table next to reporters’ recorders and let it breathe.” It’s hard to imagine a more suitable picture of bold grace.


Too many leaders think that because of their position, they can never let anyone see them falter. They can never show disappointment in themselves. It takes a hefty dose of bold grace to reveal that while we may be leaders, we are still human.  

Focus and Discipline

Figure skater Nathan Chen and his coach, Rafael Arutyunyan. First, Nathan Chen is the consummate example of discipline. Many did not think it was possible to train and compete on the world stage and simultaneously be a full-time student at Yale studying statistics. Nathan has certainly proven them wrong. His focus and discipline is stunning.

Teach Others to Lead

Then there is Nathan’s coach. While at Yale, Nathan largely trained on his own and would consult via Face Time with his coach. Quoting his coach, Rafael Arutyunyan, “For nine years I have been preparing Nathan for independent work. I wasn’t training him but teaching him to train.” Imagine if leaders took the same approach to developing leaders in their organization—not leading others but teaching them to lead. What bold grace and Olympian-style leadership.

Get Out of the Way

My last example (but the list could go on for some time) is snowboarder Shaun White. When I heard Shaun’s name mentioned the first night of the Olympics, I thought they were referring to him as a commentator. He couldn’t possibly be competing?! I was wrong. Shaun White is competing in his fifth, and final, Olympics. I was struck by a quote from Shaun: “I’m so proud that I helped grow and shape the sport into what it is today. I can’t wait to see where the next generation takes it.”

What struck me about this quote was how I’ve seen so many leaders in organizations not recognize when it’s time to “see where the next generation takes it.” Many times, the most effective thing a leader can do is get out of the way; especially if they have assembled a great team. That requires bold grace.

To Re-cap Examples of Olympian-Style Leadership

  • Deal with disappointment openly and honestly, because you’re going to falter and make mistakes.
  • Focus and discipline helps leaders maintain balance and achieve their goals.
  • Spend less time leading others and more time teaching them to lead.
  • Recognize your contributions, and then get out of the way and cheer-on the next generation.