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5 Business Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Gain from Olympians


People across the world are spending every minute of their free time glued to television screens these days–only this is no ordinary Netflix binge.

Instead, it’s the unfolding of the 2016 Olympics, which have already proved to be full of the same upsets, tribulations, and triumphs that we’ve all come to expect from the Olympic Games.

For entrepreneurs, there’s even more to be gained from watching the Olympics than the simple act of marveling at athletic feats of strength. Keeping a close eye on Olympians can teach you a lot about the components that are necessary for accomplishing great feats in both sport and business. Here are five lessons the Olympics can teach entrepreneurs about the path to success.

1. Learn the ins and outs of your competition

If you were an Olympic swimmer, you wouldn’t show up to the pool without a sense of who you might be swimming against, their strengths, their weaknesses, and how you stack up relative to their accomplishments.

Likewise, in business, you shouldn’t start (or maintain) a company without knowing who the competition is. How many companies are trying to do something similar to you? Who is their target demographic, and how are they marketing to them? What’s working for them? What isn’t? What could you do better? These are essential questions to ask of yourself as a business leader–not just in the beginning stages of your company, but throughout its entire lifespan.

This piece of advice can also be interpreted in another way: You need to know the rules of your own game. If you’re in the business of e-commerce, then you better know everything a person can know about e-commerce. To do otherwise would be as absurd as Michael Phelps not knowing that the backstroke is included in the 200 IM.

2. Embrace failures as a learning opportunity

Even Simone Biles probably messed up during a few gymnastics meets in her past. But she and other Olympians don’t lose one time and call it quits. Instead, they use those missteps to better understand where and how they need to improve their own performance, and then they work tirelessly to close the gap.

Likewise, you won’t get very far as an entrepreneur if you throw up your hands every time you encounter a challenge or stumbling block. After all, the world of entrepreneurship is packed to the gills with challenges and stumbling blocks! And the entrepreneurs who succeed are the ones who use those obstacles to fuel their strategy for success, rather than succumbing to imposter syndrome or negative thoughts along the way.

3. Enlist the support of a good coach

Whether in the world of sports or the world of business, it would be impossible to overstate the value of mentorship. Having the guidance of someone who possesses skills, expertise, experiences, or perspective beyond what you currently possess is hugely important to making sound decisions as both an Olympian and an entrepreneur. It’s important to remember that everyone can benefit from this type of mentorship–from employees to company leadership.

4. Set smart goals–and go after them every day

Chinese weightlifter Deng Wei didn’t wake up one day and say to herself: “I want to win Olympic gold and break multiple world records” and then–poof!–do that. Instead, she got there as a result of years of consistent and focused hard work. She systematically identified areas for improvement, made modifications to her form, and trained toward increasingly challenging goals. Bit by bit: That’s how an Olympian, and a business, is made.

What this speaks to is the importance of both the big and small pictures. Establish the lofty vision for your company, yes. But don’t forget to also lay out the manageable goals that will allow your business to progress toward that vision on a daily basis.

5. Hold yourself–and your team–accountable

One of the reasons Olympians succeed is because most of them are surrounded by a team of people who demand their accountability–to their training, to their sport, to their mental and physical wellbeing, to their team, and so on.

Take, for example, Dutch gymnast Yuri van Gelder, who was barred from competing in the finals because he violated his team’s no-drinking policy. The lesson here is that team members are held accountable for their performance and for the fact that they represent something bigger than themselves.

This isn’t to say that you should enforce a rigid “no tolerance” policy with your team. By all means, make sure to appreciate and celebrate your team for their successes. But it’s also important to create a culture in which teammates respect the contributions of their coworkers and strive to uphold the company’s mission every day.

It takes years of hard work to make it to the Olympics–let alone to earn a medal. And it’s just the same in business. It can take years (if not decades) to build a business that you’re proud of, but in many ways the journey is its own reward.


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