Three Ways to Win a Gold Medal in LeadershipI don’t know about you, but I stayed up too late watching the Olympics. I couldn’t seem to get enough of Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles and the rest of the athletes—big sports and small, medal winners and those who are happy just to be there. I loved the beauty of phenomenal athletic achievement and getting caught up in the emotions of winning, redemption and patriotism.

I began to think about how all of us in the leadership space could earn our own gold medal moments. Gold medal moments aren’t the everyday heavy lifting that great leaders already do (though that is NOTHING to take for granted). I’m talking about the Olympic-sized emotional and intellectual capacities I see in my clients when the stakes are big. There are no right answers to these challenges. There are upsides to gain and downsides to endure. So, here are three ways to win a gold medal in leadership:

  1. Balancing human needs with business needs. All great leaders balance human and business needs. But the toughest moments are when the real, poignant need of an individual bumps up against a critical business result. It’s knowing when and how to lean one way or another AND how to communicate what you’re doing and why. It’s about listening, patience, negotiating a win-win, and having empathy and true emotional intelligence. It’s also having good business acumen and considering the needs of others in the organization as well as external stakeholders, to know the boundaries of what is you and what others can accept. It’s leaning in to the tough conversations, delivered with love, that makes these things possible. If you can do that, you win the gold!
  2. Knowing when to push and when to celebrate/relax. Leaders today are working too hard. There is too much crammed into the job, too many competing priorities, too much pressure, both internally and externally placed. I get it, CEOs can’t let down. You certainly don’t want others backing off any more than you want to. You got where you are because of the things you do better than anyone else—your personality and professional skills—and your hard-working, confident, never-say-die outlook. But elite athletes rest, they take care of their bodies, and they have a team of supporters and coaches around them that allow them to perform at their best. Leaders—and your staff—need the same. When do you push for that something more? When do you stand down for a bit? When do you decide to celebrate effort, even if results aren’t there? If you can figure this out, you win the gold!
  3. Knowing when to take the risk and when to be more cautious. Many decisions are “bets.” New strategies, new products, hiring new executive leaders, for example. CEOs (and the rest of us) don’t really know if they will work out. Should you take the bet when the odds are 90 percent success? How about 80 percent or 60 percent? How much do you invest—of your heart, your time, your money? How much do you “go for it” vs. invest in covering potential losses? How long do you take losses in the short run to gain in the long run? How much business data/analysis do you get vs. trusting your instincts? There is no formula for deciding; it is about getting as much intelligence and data as you can get, planning and executing as faithfully as you can, and knowing how much of the farm you must hold on to. If you get this right, again you win the gold!

These are just a few of the real world, ambiguous, right AND wrong/good AND bad decisions CEOs must face sometimes. Olympic athletes face these same decisions as they prepare for their big day. Are you prepared for what you can gain and what you might lose? I’d be glad to help you through those choices.

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