By Michael Gunther

The Olympics are here once again, and it gets me excited about all the fanfare surrounding the games: national pride, tense competitions, trials and tribulations of the athletes, etc. (and all this from a non-sports guy).

I started thinking about how Olympic teams are similar to strong business teams. Whether the athlete is an individual performer or part of a team competition, there are a slew of support individuals assisting to help them achieve their goals. In addition, the athletes have unbelievable determination to be better than their competitors, and even exceed their personal past performance.

Aren’t the qualities and traits of these athletes similar to the qualities and traits you want on your team? Think about their characteristics:

  • Goals

Focus on achieving the impossible and improving oneself to obtain a goal larger than oneself. I know successful businesses have everyone reaching for something larger than one individual could achieve alone.

  • Discipline

Never give up, even when life, or your own body, throws you a curve. The drive for top performance trumps everything else. Sheer determination can get you, as a leader, through anything—it’s that kind of persistence that separates mediocre performance from stellar performance.

  • Measurement

These teams measure everything: their breathing, their body movements, their speed, etc. The purpose of these measurements is to enhance performance, improve techniques, and ultimately win the gold.

It still amazes me that while many businesses measure key indicators, they only use the information to judge the past rather than enhance future performance. And there are other leaders who measure things just to measure them, instead of measuring the right indicators that would allow their teams to improve their skills, processes, or strategies and accomplish their goals.

  • Coaching

Outside perspective from someone with expertise is critical to these athletes’ abilities and standing within their respective sports. They understand that they don’t have all the answers themselves, and need to hire those who have either been there themselves or have helped others achieve goals.

I’ve often come across leaders who feel like they need to have all the answers and can’t show weakness or ignorance in a particular area for fear of appearing weak. Quite the contrary—I find that those leaders who realize they don’t have all the answers and seek assistance from experts are typically the ones who excel more quickly than other leaders.

  • Teamwork

Watching Michael Phelps in one of the relay races where his team set him up to be far ahead of the pack and easily take the gold was a great example of teamwork. It didn’t matter to the rest of the team that Michael was more decorated with medals than they were because they all had a role in making the team a success.

It wasn’t about the individual performance ultimately, but the team performance that led to the gold. This includes all the ‘behind the scenes’ team members, from the volunteers, the equipment people, the trainers, etc. It truly takes a team to achieve something great in sports and in business. Those leaders who forget this are often leaders of underperforming teams.


Bottom Line

Is your team performing like an Olympic team, or more like a last place Junior Varsity high school team? Get them behind a goal larger than themselves, challenge and support them as they work towards achieving it, bring in expertise when needed, and remember to recognize and reward all the team members involved.

Lastly, don’t ever give up. Leading can be hard at times and it can be lonely at the top. Achieving a “gold” (however you define that for you and your team) takes determination and discipline at levels most people will never experience. And as my favorite cartoon character Buzz Lightyear says—never give up, never surrender!


This is another article in a series on Michael’s entrepreneurial story and how being raised in a large family has influenced his career. To read the previous articles in this series, visit his blog at

Michael Gunther is Founder and President of Collaboration LLC, a team of highly skilled business professionals who are dedicated to assisting proactive business owners to build profitable, sustainable businesses through results-oriented education and consulting services. Learn more at


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