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What can Business leaders learn from our Olympians ?

It’s been a big sporting month. It has been amazing to watch so many young, talented Kiwis triumph at the London Olympics; and even better to see that success galvanize the whole country into a mood of pride and celebration.

Ask any of our returning Olympians what has contributed to their success and the answers will almost certainly be a mixture of passion, drive, commitment, hard work – and great coaching. Ask any of those coaches what the secret is and it’s likely they’ll say success comes from about 10% skill and 90% mental attitude.

As sports fans we accept this without question. It makes sense. We understand that having the right attitude in any sports arena – knowing what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it – supercharges an athlete’s skills and helps them beat the odds.

Why then do we accept this so naturally in the sporting world and yet utterly fail to adopt the same attitude when it comes to inspiring and motivating staff to help companies achieve their goals.

It’s not rocket science - people need meaning and purpose to motivate them. Give them a reason to do something – whether it’s to learn a new skill or improve an existing one; tell them why they’re vital to the journey you’re going on together and they will more often than not take you there.

The All Whites didn’t outdo everyone’s expectations of them at the last football world cup because one or two players were technically excellent; the All Blacks didn’t hang on to win the Rugby World Cup final by one point because they played spectacularly better than the French; and the women’s hockey Black Sticks didn’t outplay themselves in the Olympics because they tackled better. These teams succeeded because every individual in the team was working together to achieve the same thing – they wanted it more, as a team.


When it comes to the learning and development of staff, the same is true. For learning and skills development to be successful staff must want to engage in it; they need a reason. And that’s why it’s vital that company CEOs engage in the learning and development process. They are the ones who can give staff the answer to that question of “why are we doing this?”.

CEOs must stop thinking of training as something they do to their staff and start thinking of learning and development as something they do with their people. When that happens, staff stop thinking “I must learn how to do this because the boss says so”, and start thinking “learning this is making me a vital part of this team and helping us all to achieve ourvision”.

Power your people and they’ll be the engine that drives your company towards a gold medal winning performance.


Martyn McKessar is Director of The Learning Wave.

The Learning Wave has vast experience in delivering organisation performance improvements. Our focus is on delivering measurable shifts in performance that produce effective organisational improvements.

We link learning to strategic business outcomes and work in partnership with clients to embed learning into organisational change.

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