The 7 Qualities You Need to Get Your Company on the Medal Stand

What does it take to get on the Medal Stand and out of the Grandstands?

Jessica Long. One of the most decorated Paralympic athletes in history.

She’s won 17 Olympic medals. 12 of them are gold.

She holds 13 world records.

She’s been Sports Woman of the Year twice.

She’s obviously a remarkable swimmer.

She did all of it after having the lower part of both legs amputated when she was 18 months old.

Jessica Long’s drive, devotion and discipline are unquestioned.   Her determination is boundless. (NBC produced an in-depth look at her life you can find here.)

Is all of that enough? If you had each of those characteristics in immeasurable quantity, would it be enough to make you an Olympian?

Is drive, devotion and discipline enough?

Probably not.

Like Jessica Long, one of the most decorated Paralympic athletes in history, you have those qualities. They may be latent, hibernating in your psyche awaiting ignition, but those qualities are hanging around if you choose to access them.

But, they’re not enough. You and your organization still need the athletic qualities that define an Olympian.

Does Your Company have the 7 Critical Attributes of an Olympic Champion?

So, here’s the question: How fit is your organization? Do you belong on the Medal Stand?

Not sure about that? Here’s a simple test: Name a previous bronze medalist in any Olympic sport. Anyone?

Mighty few. And if you can remember the name of a bronze medalist, can you name someone not on the medal stand at all? (For Olympic athletes, the difference between a gold medal and fourth place averages about one-half of 1 percent when measuring fitness, according to the U.S. Olympic Committee’s psychologists.)

Are you in contention for a medal or just an also-ran, struggling to keep up and unwilling to put in the work to win? Will any one even remember your name?

I’m betting that you ARE willing to put in the work and want nothing less than victory for you and your company.

That’s a great start, but it’s not enough.

So, what does it take to build a company of Olympian proportions – not in size but in success?

Let’s take a look at the 7 most important components of fitness.

How do you and your company measure up?

What are the 7 Attributes of Olympic Champions?


We can measure strength in a number of important ways, but it must start with the quality of your leadership team.

General Joe Dunford, #7 on Fortune Magazine’s “World’s Greatest 50 Leaders” is the Marine four-star general and leader of NATO’s coalition in Afghanistan. Dunford told Fortune his first battalion commander told him the three rules to success. The first? Surround yourself with good people. “Over the years,” says Dunford, “I’ve forgotten the other two.”

In concept, it’s very simple and you don’t need another rule if you relentlessly focus on this one: There is absolutely no substitute for hiring and retaining “A” players to create the best possible leadership team. Period.

Great athletes = great performers = great performance.

You should couple this standard with a measure of your financial strength … your ability to withstand unexpected forces like the Great Recession of 2008 … by looking at your balance sheet and the strength of your free cash flow.


While this bears a family resemblance to strength, it’s more focused on the explosive bursts of strength required at critical moments.

This determines your business’ ability move quickly to attack initiatives by applying all the resources you can muster at that precise moment.

When you have an “all hands on deck” challenge that requires a rapid, full force response, your power will make all the difference.


This fitness attribute refers to your ability to sustain the skills and capabilities of your organization over extended periods of time.

More than anything, it requires proven and reliable systems and processes to ensure a consistent and sustainable delivery of your products and services.

Ongoing training, cross-training and education is essential to achieve a high level of fitness in this category.


This characteristic refers to your organization’s strategic commitment to lifelong learning and your ability to respond quickly to change.

Our ability to create change initiatives is critical.

We’re learning every day, but if we can’t implement anything new, we’re going to lose the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and improve our prospects for the future.

We also need to be hyper-alert to changes around us so we can react with alacrity and purpose.

If you are slow to react, you can be dead certain you won’t be standing on the medal platform.


In some ways, flexibility is a kissing cousin to agility.

I’m referring to the operational flexibility that allows you to deploy your resources in unique and varying ways to quickly respond to the needs of your customers and the marketplace.

While agility requires an eternal commitment to strategic change, flexibility defines your organization’s intellectual and emotional capacity to flex its financial, human and physical talents to respond to changing circumstances.


[pullquote]“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” ~ Vince Lombardi[/pullquote]

For athletes, being coordinated requires that all of their mental and physical attributes work in harmony, with choreographed timing, to create the desired movement. It’s not every man for himself, but every woman for each other. No one left behind. No one finishing a project late at night without others pitching in to get it done.

Coordination means that we need to burn down the silos and build a collaborative culture that synchronizes and integrates all the parts so that a common goal can be achieved.

Politics is anathema to coordinated organizations.

Blame doesn’t exist.

Mistakes get made but they’re quickly remedied. Everyone moves forward.

Everyone dives for the ball before it hits the ground.


While coordination informs it, balance requires sure footing and the recognition that short-term goals and long-term objectives should be applied in equal measure … or as close as you can get.

Every organization has multiple goals. Sometimes, immediate profitability and positive cash flow is essential to keep the company solvent and strong. At other times, you’re investing every extra penny to build capability for the future and sacrificing short-term gains to do it.

You also have many constituencies … employees, suppliers, customers, shareholders, your community … and each of their needs must be met in a consistent fashion.

It’s challenging because it’s always changing … just as our individual balance is always shifting among personal, family, community and business responsibilities.

But, without this balance, your organization will be dashing between pillar and post, unable to realize any of its objective because the goal du jure is pursued at the expense of other objectives.

Your organization must shape its multiple, and sometimes conflicting, goals into a cohesive strategy that balances the company’s goals as well as its various constituencies.

Download the 7 Olympic Qualities Checklist

I’ve created a simple 7 Olympic Qualities Checklist so you can rate your Company on the attributes of an Olympic Champion.

While there’s no way to create a precise profile of these attributes, this checklist will give you a pretty good idea of where your company is thriving and where it’s struggling to achieve the success you’re seeking.

I think you’ll find that your gut instinct will help you find a pretty sound rating for each of these attributes … and like it or not, will identify a meaningful threshold to help you focus on improving your weaknesses and strengthening your capabilities.

How did you do?

Let me know in the comments how well you did.

If you’ve uncovered a few challenges in this exercise, we can think about it together to figure out some steps you can take to strengthen your capabilities to build a more successful business.

Just let me know in the comments – no cost or obligation – and we’ll find a way to do it.

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