By Amy Franko

I love the Summer Olympics. Somehow I find myself staying up late every night for two weeks, signing off with Bob Costas and dragging myself to work the next day!

One of the reasons I get wrapped up in the Games is that there are so many inspiring moments that I take to heart as a leader and entrepreneur.

These Games seem especially fitting to write about in the context of women in leadership, because there are several firsts for women.  This is the first Gameswhere the U.S.delegation is sending more female than male athletes.  And even more significant, this is the first Olympics in history where all of the 205 participating countries have female athletes in competition.

It feels a little strange to be writing that in 2012, and I hope it’s the beginning of even more opportunities for women – especially for those living in countries where these opportunities aren’t the norm yet.

To carry on the Olympic spirit, I’ve gathered some of the moments that have inspired me the most, and their lessons to help us be better leaders:

  • The Opening Ceremonies.  It’s usually the very elite and often famous athletes getting all of the attention during the Olympics.  But the opening ceremonies are a reminder of just how many countries and athletes compete, many without the fanfare and attention.  Each person there has prepared to his or her absolute best to earn this opportunity.  Most athletes won’t even win a medal.  It’s the journey and the desire to represent something greater than one’s self.An amazing first in the opening ceremonies was air-rifle shooter Bahiya al Hamad fromQatar, who carried her country’s flag. Qataris one of the countries sending women to the Olympic Games for the first time. Imagine her fellow countrywomen who can look up to her and follow in her footsteps.Lessons:  Look at absolutely everything from a perspective of possibility.  Opportunities are all around you.  Value the effort and the journey even more than you value the results.
  • Gabby Douglas’ historic gold medal.  Gabby Douglas is the first African American woman ever to win a gold medal in the gymnastics all-around competition.   It’s hard to not to be inspired by her infectious smile, her confidence, and her icy calm in the face of extreme pressure.   She is committed to her sport, so much so in fact, that she moved from her home in Virginia to Iowa to train with a top coach who could help her up-level her game.Lesson:  Invest in yourself.  Get the coaching and support you need to make your dreams come true.
  • Jordyn Wieber’s elimination from the gymnastics all-around competition.  On the flip-side of Gabby Douglas’ success, you couldn’t help but feel for Jordyn Wieber, the world champion gymnast who was barely edged out by her two American teammates for a spot in the all-around.  What makes it even tougher for her to accept is that most gymnasts only compete in a single Olympics.  She had a choice, and being the champion that she is, she chose resilience.  She shed her tears, she congratulated her teammates, and then she put it behind her to compete and contribute to the team gold medal.Lesson:  You own your attitude.  Choose resilience. 
  • Dara Torres’ bid to compete in swimming at age 45.  Dara Torres is one my favorite athletes.  She had a hugely successful Beijing Olympics in 2008, winning several medals at age 41.  She joked that many of her teammates were born well after her first Olympics in 1984, but she completely eliminated the notion that age is a barrier to success.Torres attempted to secure a spot on the 2012 team, at age 45.  No one had ever done it.  In the Olympic trials she came so close, within 9/100 of a second of securing her spot in the 50-meter freestyle.  Many of her competitors were half her age, and she was in it, every step of the way.9/100 of a second.Even more meaningful was her 6-year old daughter Tessa watching from the stands as she attempted to make history.  I’ll bet she grows up to be just like her mother.Lesson:  You have everything inside of you to break boundaries.  Just because someone has never done it before doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
  • Watching Missy “The Missile” Franklin compete.  Talk about a breath of fresh air.  Missy Franklin is someone you can’t help but cheer for.  Like Gabby Douglas, she has a mega-watt smile and an energy that makes her magnetic.  She competed in seven events, ultimately winning three gold medals and one bronze medal.   (She may even surpass Michael Phelps’ 22 medal count someday!)At 17, she is wise beyond her years.  While she had a singular focus on these games, she also kept the bigger picture in mind.  She decided to forego endorsements and immediate monetary payoffs so that she could remain an amateur and compete on her high school swim team in her senior year.  (OK seriously, could you imagine competing against her on any high school swim team?)  I’m sure there were a lot of naysayers out there, and she stood strong in her decision.  She wants to do it her way, and that comfort in her decisions will make her happier and even more successful in the long run.Lesson:   Make decisions with the big picture in mind.  Be comfortable and strong in your decisions.
  • Holley Mangold’s competition in women’s weightlifting.  Holley Mangold is someone who isn’t afraid to be true to herself.  A self-professed “big girl,” she wasn’t a high school football cheerleader; she was a linebacker on the team.  That uncommon path led her to compete in her first Olympics as a weightlifter, where she placed tenth.  She wasn’t even expected to compete until the 2016 Olympics.  Watch Holley and it’s obvious she has complete heart and passion for what she does.  She’s undeniably comfortable in the unique path she’s blazing.Lesson:  This comes directly from Holley herself, an insight she shared with The Columbus Dispatch“As a person, you can do whatever you want to do.  If you have a dream, you have to follow it, and you can’t worry about the social mirror of what you’re supposed to do.”

Visit https://amyfranko.com for more information about custom training solutions and professional development services offered by Impact Instruction Group.  Amy Franko works with emerging women leaders, teaching concepts from the international best-sellers Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office and See Jane Lead to many national companies and organizations.

© 2012 Impact Instruction Group

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