Leadership Lessons from The Summer Olympics

As it happens, the Olympics fall during the same time period as our busiest training period in Student Affairs. Now is the time that we shake off the dust that’s accumulated over summer (for some of us, there may be more dust than for others), and prepare to salute the judges to start the routine that is our academic year.

Although this year’s training is not Olympic themed, I definitely feel like there are a few lessons that the London Games could impart upon my students.

Don’t pay any mind to your haters. (Gabrielle Douglas, USA Gymnastics)
In the afterglow of a stellar all-around victory in gymnastics, Gabby Douglas was forced to deal with critics standing in her spotlight. Their concern? She hadn’t paid enough attention to her hair. But this 16 year old turned the other cheek and displayed a tremendous level of maturity. She refused to allow the hate and quibbling wear her down.

This is a valuable lesson for our students. As they strive to learn from their work, they may misstep. And many may call attention to their missteps, at times causing their confidence to falter. As an advisor, it is our job to ensure that those mistakes are (a) allowed, and (b) truly embraced as learning experiences. When those two criteria are satisfied, we must empower our students to brush off the hate, stand tall, and continue to work toward success.

Don’t be afraid to do what has never been done, or to take your talents to new heights. (Oscar Pistorius, RSA Track and Field)
A historic moment was realized at the London Games when the first double amputee, South African athlete Oscar Pistorius, was permitted to compete in the Olympic Games. He had competed previously in the 2004 and 2008 Paralympic Games, but pushed to compete against able-bodied athletes and succeeded.

There is a significant possibility that you have students who are in new positions this coming year, students who are nervous about assuming this role. But like Pistorius, they have earned their place on staff and have the tools to do well. Like Pistorius’ coaches and family, can be a source of encouragement as they develop their skills. Who knows where they could take their talents next?

Have some swagger when you’ve done something amazing. (Usain Bolt, JAM Track and Field)
While I am a tremendous proponent of humility over boastfulness, amazing things do happen at the hands of our students. The successful and well-attended programs or world speed records, these triumphs should be celebrated. Recognize students for the feats they accomplish, but also make sure they’re aware of the impact they’ve made. Usain Bolt embodies this with the excitement that he feels after each record-breaking race. Allow your students to celebrate their positive progress with the confidence of this Jamaican world champion. Who knows they can have two great years back-to-back like Bolt’s did in his race at the Olympics this year.

Be excited for team successes (Michael Phelps, USA Swimming)
In the same breath that I implore you to help students celebrate individual successes, I would more strongly encourage you to help them recognize the success of their fellow staff members. Although Michael Phelps will be remembered for his record-breaking medal haul at this Games (22 total in 3 Olympiads- WOW!), the thing I appreciate most about him is the sheer excitement that comes with his victory in a team event. Yes, he is the most decorated Olympian of all time, but think of his most iconic celebration stance- screaming, biceps tense with elation- a stance reached after a close victory in the 4 x 100 relay. His enthusiasm was as much for his teammates as it was for him, and we should encourage such accomplishment sharing on our own staffs.
What have the amazing athletes of this Olympiad inspired you to bring out in your students?

Amma Marfo

Student Affairs - the First Years

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