Earning gold medals

I’ve had the pleasure of being in the audience twice to learn of the process that John Naber, swimmer, followed to win four gold medals and one silver medal in the 1976 Olympics.

As I listened I realized that what John did was similar to the process most successful entrepreneurs use to grow a business.

There are eight steps in The Gold Medal Process; I’ll address the first four now.

The first step is The Dream. This is where emotions take over and the overwhelming urge to be someone different or to create something new comes into view.

Often an enterprise is based on moving away from something, as opposed to moving towards something. Moving to a “vision” is far more powerful and exciting and it encourages others to be in support of The Dream.

John said that his vision was clear as he watched an American swimmer receive a gold medal in the 1972 Olympics as the American flag rose in the background while the Star Spangled Banner played.

Four years later he stood alone on a pedestal, a gold medal around his neck, as that same stanza played to an audience of 12,000 people with the reflection of the American flag mirrored on the pool in front of him.

The second step is having Faith and Attitude to achieve The Dream. I am sure that every Olympian-hopeful experienced, at some point, a loss of faith in their abilities to compete and to win. These individuals might have also lost the attitude required to win.

Every leader has setbacks too; some that seem so crippling that they paralyze people preventing them from moving forward.

It helps to have others in support. Not those who nod their head and tell you “you can do this.” It’s far more important to have people who will tell you they believe in you and you need to believe a little bit more in yourself.

During his four long years of training John gained faith by being self-aware of what he was doing, but, more than anything else, he was focused on getting better at one thing: being a better swimmer.

Leaders can take away something very valuable here: keep a tight focus on being a better leader and don’t diffuse your energy by trying to be all things to all people. Just lead.

The third step is a Concrete Goal. This is easy for those who are responsible for selling, creating revenue and measuring profits. The challenge is to translate those goals to the individuals in the company who are removed from specific goals.

I believe most disengaged employees are those disconnected from the results and goals of the business. For many, the concrete goal is simply getting a paycheck. That is not only far from inspiring, it is disconcerting.

John was able to calculate the time he would have to beat in the one race he was focused on winning. He did a trend analysis and then wrote the goal (in seconds) on a yellow index card taped to his bathroom mirror.

The fourth step is to create a Strategy and Plan linked to specific time metrics. Based on his Concrete Goal, John calculated that he would need to shed hundredths of a second off his time each month. Each lap was measured as he swam for five hours a day, eleven months a year. He tracked his progress and took corrective measures when necessary.

Most leaders think they have strategies but these are simply wish lists. Strategy details what is going to have to take place (the what) linked to a Plan (how, who, and when). Hope is not a strategy. Hope is a campaign slogan.

I’ll finish the final four steps in The Gold Medal Process in my next column.