Olympic Gold

The Olympics season wraps up this weekend with another record haul of gold medals for Great Britain the stupendous Paralympics Games in Rio. Already the TV shows a packed with interviewed quizzing the athletes on the secrets to their success. And a recurring (albeit underlying) theme will be …Leadership and Management.

A fine illustration of the role Leadership and Management plays comes from Mike Pegg, himself a professional coach. Mike often starts his coaching engagements with exploring the “Picture of Perfection”, but I particularly appreciate his story of Peter Vidmar (“5 Tips for Enabling Peak Performance in the Workplace Using Proven Olympic Coaching Technique”), 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist, who articulated the path to perfection in his world…

  • “Looking back at how his event was scored in those days, he describes the steps people took to score the Perfect 10, which was first achieved by Nadia Comaneci in Montreal. Firstly, they must achieve the Olympic standard of technical competence. This often took years of dedication and would give them the 9.4. They could then add 0.2 by taking a risk; 0.2 by demonstrating originality – something that had never been done before; and 0.2 by showing virtuosity – flair. Such a brilliant performance would produce the Perfect 10 and, hopefully, the Olympic Gold.”

I like this numerical model because of how much weight it puts on “Management”. I have often decried people who dismiss “Management” in favour of “Leadership” obsession. I think this model appropriate frames Malcolm Gladwell’s famous “10,000 Hours”. Yes (barring some prodigy-like outlier bestowal of assets), 10,000 hours might be required for world-class excellence, but it is not a guarantee of ultimate success to dreams of medals, championships, fame and fortune. Instead it is the table-stakes entry-fee for having a shot at the big prize.

But this model doesn’t trivialise “Leadership”. The difference between an Olympic athlete with and without “Leadership” (ie. the 0.6 points) is the difference between medalling and obscurity. The other element I appreciate about this piece is that the “0.2” for “Risk” could also be re-dubbed “Luck”.

Leaders find the 0.6 of original, risk-taking virtuosity, Managers secure the 9.4 standard of excellence.