Insight / Opinion

Olympic quality leadership.

The Olympic Games, as well as providing us with top quality athletic prowess in the weeks to come, has presented us with an incredible leadership case study.

The International Olympic Committee has been at the centre of a defining moment in the history of sport. It has had to decide whether to ban the entire Russian delegation because of the wrong-doings of its officials who tampered with the anti-doping process, to allow for doping athletes not to return positive tests.

As tempting as it is, we have to stay away from turning this into a goodies and baddies story and we have to understand how complex the issues are, starting with the “collective responsibility against individual justice” described by Thomas Bach, the IOC president. Add to that the commercial interests against the Olympic ideals, pressures from the anti-doping community and the athletes’ representatives, pressures from the financial partners and political interference and you’ve got a heady mix that makes decision making an unenviable task.

This has also been a case of protecting ideals and values. Sometimes leaders need to understand how applying rules may lead to unfair outcomes or outcomes which seem unfair. Is making exceptions for past cheaters the right thing to do in some cases?

From the comfort of our couches, it is very easy for us to say what we would have done. Nobody will be judging our decision, and we do not have millions of dollars at stake. We do not have millions of people watching us make a decision, implement it, and live with it. We are not playing with more than a hundred years of history of a global movement and we are not taking the risk of being the one who killed the Olympics.

Whilst situations like these are certainly the product of a large set of interacting forces, which means they can be prevented if addressed in time, they do happen, and in those cases, it is best to be prepared.

This is exactly what the Leadership Trust does. We prepare people for tough situations. Our Special Forces heritage means dealing with “tough” is in our DNA. Certainly on a daily basis, they will be faced with crises, hopefully on a smaller scale. But in 2016, the world is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, and similar situations, can arise at anytime. In those moments, there is no time to dwell on how this could have been prevented, it is a moment to display leadership fast and strong.

It is a matter of assessing, under huge pressure and time constraints, the situation as it is and finding a solution, making sure everyone around you will follow you in its implementation. It is about performing under pressure, making difficult decisions, understanding their consequences and being able to live with them. Debriefing might happen after the event, in order for this not to happen again, but the question is about learning to deal with the here and now, and providing an appropriate response to the issue at hand.

Athletes need to know now, whether they can or can’t participate, as of today, in arguably one of the biggest sport events in the world. Athletes need to know now, that they are taking part in a fair competition, with and against clean athletes. Athletes need to know now that the sport authorities have their best interests at heart, as well as, the protection of the ideals and values of sport.

So. The world is watching. What will you do?


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