As the Olympics wind up, I find myself reflecting back especially on Shaun White’s amazing performance. When he won his well-deserved half-pipe gold in Vancouver under a blizzard of media coverage, even a sober academic like me was jumping up and down, watching the excitement on television. It strikes me now that the business and academic communities can learn powerful lessons from this young Olympian.
In Shaun, a restless spirit that seeks to create its own destiny, not by settling for “good enough,” but by being the best ever.
Let’s examine the management lessons:
Ambition. Successful organizations sometimes become complacent, and, over time, they decay. Remember Polaroid? Shaun didn’t rest on his laurels after he won the gold. He set himself a nearly impossible goal — a perfect score — similar to JFK’s ambition to put a “man on the moon.” When White didn’t have to, he tried a double McTwist 1260. Why is a huge ambition important? Because the thought of climbing a mountain lifts us up in a way the idea of scaling a molehill does not. Does your organization have a huge ambition?
Passion. Obviously, Shaun loves what he does. When you love your work, excellence isn’t an afterthought, it is the only thought. Is your organization passionate about its purpose?
Results. Shaun’s obsession is based on results. He invests the time to create new moves that set a new standard. Does your organization focus on results and doing what it takes to create them?
Innovation. Shaun is an entrepreneur and innovator par excellence. He constantly pushes the boundary and invents new tricks. For him, innovation isn’t a luxury, it’s a way of life. Is innovation part of your organization’s DNA?
Talent. At an early age, Shaun’s talent was recognized by one of his sponsors. He turned pro at 13, before the Olympics even had a snowboarding event. Does your organization pursue talent, attract it and nurture it?
Humility. Even while soaring high on achievement and adulation, Shaun has kept himself grounded, surrounded by family and close friends. The more humble you are, the more you know what you don’t know; you seek to learn. Is yours a learning organization?
Mind-set. This is as important as ability. Shaun exemplifies this, as evidenced in his recent backstage interview on Oprah:
“I wish I could say it was really intense training but it’s a lot of mental preparation. A lot of my sport has to do with mentally being ready to do these tricks and convincing yourself it’s okay.”
Does your organization have the right mind-set for excellence?
America didn’t achieve greatness by tucking in its shirttails or by taking the safe road. This nation wasn’t built by bean counters, insurance companies, or financial institutions. It was built through an unquenchable thirst for innovation. Sure, we praise Steve Jobs and the lads at Google, but we need more of them.
Where are the Shaun Whites to tackle health care or the green challenge?
Politicians and business leaders, it’s your turn. Where you will be in 2020?