It has been exciting to watch the Olympics in London, to see all of the practice, effort, resilience of these athletes on display for the world to appreciate. Yesterday I was talking to my two and a half-year old niece on the phone, while she was watching the cyclists in the velodrome. Her mom asked if she wanted to be a cyclist when she was older. She wasn’t interested in cycling, but a swimmer, well that was really cool. But here is the kicker, she said, “but I have to practice”.
It seems that we recognize that to become an elite athlete, we have to practice, sometimes for ten, fifteen or twenty years. Oh, and we have to have some kind of athletic talent, and the drive and desire to put in the effort it takes to develop into a world-class athlete. Not everyone can be on the Olympic stage, never mind winning a medal. And yes, there is a bit of luck to all of it.
So why is it that we tell people that there is a leader in everyone? That they can become a leader merely if they desire it? Doesn’t leadership take talent, practice, resilience, desire and drive? It is hard enough to become a leader when one possesses all of these traits and behaviours. We also tend to emphasize the glory of leadership, rather than its sacrifices. Is it not surprising that the multi-billion dollar leadership industry is littered with less than effective leadership interventions?
The Olympics are riddled with sad stories of medal contenders who didn’t achieve the hoped for result. Paula Findlay of Canada, widely considered a medal hopeful in the triathalon, came in last. She had experienced a hip injury last year, and was only just back to competing. Partway through the race, she wanted to quit, but was encouraged to finish. And so she did, in great pain, dead last, but she finished. It is that grit that will help her deal with her disappointment after the games are over. And, if she heals from the injury, it will help her rebuilt her athletic career.
Leadership takes practice. First as a follower, then as a leader. It takes years to become an effective leader. It takes resilience, drive, passion, determination, and the willingness to experience failure. Oh, and a bit of luck too.