I’m sitting at the airport on my way back from the USOC Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, where I’ve just spent the last four days with the US Olympic Sailing Team. We were out here for a physical training camp, working out, checking in on the team’s fitness levels and putting together our final push towards the Olympic Games later this summer. The Games begin in 138 days as of this writing, and there is lots of work to be done.
The training was intense, by design. The sailors were pushed and prodded and challenged to work out harder than they had ever worked out before. Not all of them reacted well to the extreme challenges put to them by the trainers, and in some cases, the reactions were strong. But the point of the training camp was to cause our team to take a hard look in the mirror, and examine their own strengths, weaknesses and capacities. We are going to compete in the Olympic Games in 138 days, and that competition will be intense. Over these final days of preparation, we want our team to think about what they do well, and more importantly, where the opportunities for improvement exist.
For most human beings, the threshold for “enough” is not as high as it could be. Most of us convince ourselves that we are working harder than we are, that we need or deserve a respite, and that we are too tired to continue. These limits are rarely physical and almost always mental. We convince ourselves that we are doing everything we need to do, or are capable of doing.
Our goal with the US Sailing Team during these last four days was to force each of them to take a hard look in the mirror and examine where their limits really were. Taking that hard look in the mirror is not easy to do, because the answers you get when you are honest with yourself will not always be fun or flattering. But progress and self-improvement require occasional, honest self-examination even if it is a painful experience.
The point here is that as a business or team leader, you need to be willing and prepared to occasionally push your team beyond whatever limits have become “comfortable.” Your job as the leader requires that you think about ways to get the most of your team, how to push them to greater efficiencies and successes. You need to find ways to convince your team that they are capable of more.
But that door swings both ways. Push too softly, and you may leave opportunity on the table. Push too hard, and you may fracture your team and chase people away. As with all other elements of team leadership, you can’t apply a one-size-fits-all approach. Successful team leadership is a series of judgment calls, where you have to decide what is appropriate and what is not.
Did we make the correct judgment call pushing the US Sailing Team as hard as we did, 138 days before the Olympic Games? Time will tell. It’s impossible to make that judgment today because our ultimate test, the Games, remains out there on the horizon.
But regardless, this question of how hard you push your team remains one of the most interesting challenges of leadership.
You can follow along with the progress and results of the US Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Teams as they compete in the Games later this summer. Look for the “US Sailing Team” on Facebook and Twitter, and at Olympics.ussailing.org.
Dean M. Brenner
Chairman and Team Leader
US Olympic Sailing Team
Colorado Springs, CO
March 11, 2012
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