What Drives A Great Olympian (Or Lawyer) To Win

All eyes are on London this summer during the 30th Olympic Games. It’s hard not to be impressed with the diversity and talent exposed in HD each night on NBC.

Currently at 37 total, Team USA is just trailing China for the most medals won in this year’s Olympics. Nevertheless, these games, as always, are geared toward international cooperation and friendly competition among countries, which makes the story of each citizen—regardless of nationality—that much more inspiring.

The question on everybody’s mind: how did these talented individuals make it so far? Who is responsible for the great success of each one?

Across the world, men and women are cheering for their favorite athletes. And, young minds are imagining that, next time, it will be them on the podium.

It may or may not surprise you to find, among the most successful Olympians in London, there are at least five reasons why they’re bred—not born—trailblazers.

Within law or life, here are a few lessons that professionals can learn from Olympians about becoming one of the world’s greatest leaders:

1. No excuses.

South African runner Oscar Pistorius, nicknamed “Blade Runner” because he races on carbon fiber prosthetic blades, qualified for the Olympic Track and Field Championships last year with a time of 45.07 seconds.

He talked about growing up playing sports with brother Carl, “My mother used to tell us in the mornings, ‘Carl put on you shoes, Oscar you put on your prosthetic legs’ …So I grew up not really thinking I had a disability. I grew up thinking I had different shoes.”

Pistorius is considered a long-shot to win the 400-meter dash final on Monday. But, as the first-ever double-amputee athlete to compete in the Olympics, Pistorius is not making any excuses.

Like all great leaders, Pistorius is aiming to work hard and win high despite low odds. A handicap? Hardly. Quite the opposite—Pistorius would tell lawyers to walk in whatever shoes (or situation) they’re given and consider it a blessing.

By contrast, in a sport where shoes are unimportant, another Olympian provides fodder for inspiration.

“There are many people who want to start rowing because I have come to the Olympic Games. We will start when I get back. We just have to wait for the boats to arrive,” says wildcard rower Hamadou Djibo Issaka. Issaka knows his story has inspired others to row in places where the idea seems impossible

Why? Issaka is from Niger, a landlocked and mostly desert nation in Africa. He trained for just three months for the men’s single sculls—clearly, almost none of them, were in his home country.

Great leaders would never let a little sand (and no water) sink their boat.

2. Discipline.

With McDonalds as the official Olympic sponsor, it’s difficult to believe that Olympic athletes obtain success through regular physical training, diet, and discipline. But, the overwhelming commonality among successful athletes is self-control.

“I trained, a lot, a lot, a lot. No drink and no girls,” said Richard Bognar from Hungary, who finished sixth in the men’s double-trap shooting final.

Similarly, professionals who work in high-stress environments often forget that healthy eating and adequate sleep improve productivity. When your caseload seems too heavy to bear, it may be time to increase your calorie-count—learn from athletes and prepare for client meetings and court cases with proper meals, consistency in preparation, hard work, and rest.

“…the Chinese always win, and maybe some people think this not good for table tennis. I don’t think so. We always win because we work much harder than the others,” responds Chinese women’s table tennis coach Shi Zhihao to new Olympic rules that would restrict each country to two players (aimed to reduce China’s domination of the sport).

In the end, like the Chinese in table tennis, success is the result of time and effort spent to gain an expertise.

3. Fair Play.

The Olympics, like law, depends highly on fair play and ethics. Which is why, eight players from China were disqualified from Badminton for deliberately trying to lose matches to ensure a better draw.

“This is my last time competing. Goodbye Badminton World Federation, goodbye my beloved badminton. You have heartlessly shattered our dreams,” said China’s Yu Yang, bidding farewell to the sport.

It’s also why governing bodies in law, like the ABA, constantly produce ethics opinions to warn lawyers of potential pitfalls, like this one. Although technological advances (and performance-enhancing drugs) are improving, don’t be a dope. Forget the quick fix—such as juror contact during online research of social media sites—and go for fairly earned gold.

4. Good Attitudes.

Nobody’s smile is as infectious as recent Olympic gymnast all-around winner Gabby Douglas. Her coach, Liang Chow, also beamed after Douglas’ performance, saying, “Before, people weren’t sure about her mental toughness.”

“She demonstrated she can handle the toughest job. It was a wonderful performance under huge pressure.”

Undeniably, young girl gymnasts face a huge amount of pressure. Nonetheless, an optimistic attitude is contagious.

“I made a lot of sacrifices, but they all paid off,” Douglas said. “My mom was always telling me, ‘You can inspire a nation.’ I always thought of that as my motivation. I want to inspire people. If you’re having a hard time, never give up and always keep fighting.”

Positive reinforcement is the most productive type of support in professional sports or professional work environments. A good attitude is (literally) worth its weight in gold.

5. Team Support.

Finally, peer support is crucial to winning Olympic gold. Not just for the team events, but for the individual ones, too.

Swimming is frequently considered a solitary endeavor. But, as Olympic medalist Allison Schmitt points out, she never would have reached the podium without the encouragement of her teammate—ultimate Olympic Champion—Michael Phelps.

“(Phelps) has definitely helped me out a lot,” said Schmitt, who set an Olympic record to win the 200-meter freestyle.

“He has shown me the ropes in many ways in international swimming and Olympic trials—keeping me calm before my swim, saving my energy. At the same time, he’ll always be there at practice, if he sees me doing something wrong, if I just want to be like, ‘Michael, watch this finish.’ He’s always willing to watch it and help me out if he sees something wrong.”

Feedback and communication are equally important among teams. Support doesn’t simply imply blind encouragement, but it also bears the responsibility of righting wrongs as they occur.

So even if your average workday isn’t filmed in high-definition for public broadcast like the London Olympics, leave the office every day with the professional pride that it could have been.



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