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Watching the peak performance of Olympic champions in PyeongChang with amazement and awe, we can only marvel at how athletes achieve such phenomenal levels of success.

What are the secrets of mastery at this level – of the staggering courage of men and women who hurtle through the crisp, cold winder air with nothing more than two long thin skis, or a four-foot piece of wood to support them? What do they know that we don’t?

Can we accomplish personal growth and leadership at work using the same techniques?

We certainly can. Here are three secret strategies of Olympic champions that executives and managers can use to guarantee personal success.

1. The Power of Habit

This essential characteristic is stressed by Malcolm Gladwell in his best-selling book entitled Outliers: The Story of Success. Gladwell highlights two key elements of success – practice and repetition – which are crucial even when talent or a special aptitude are already sky high. Each of gold medallist has stressed these two fundamental elements.

No-one can really become proficient in any undertaking without constant repetition. It’s practice that gives Champions the confidence and assurance to perform at the highest possible level, according to Gladwell.

The power of habit establishes a pattern of behaviour that becomes wired into our nervous system, which kicks in to activate desirable modes of reaction. These in-built actions were also highlighted by William James, the famous American philosopher, in his magnificent book Habit. James recommends we use our nervous system as our ally, and that we use the power of habit to override negative pull. So, introducing these characteristics at our work would be highly beneficial.

An outstanding example of all these attributes was in the performance of Easter Ledecka of the Czech Republic. She won two gold medals: one in the parallel slalom and the second in the alpine skiing super G in the 2018 Winter Games. She said it was hard to achieve both, but practice and wiring certain behaviours into her DNA gave her the confidence to battle to succeed in both events. She loves both disciplines and trains for each – three weeks snowboarding and a subsequent three weeks of skiing.

2. The Power of Criticism

People hate to be criticised.

Criticism is frequently viewed as unfavourable – we prefer not to be reminded of our weaknesses.

But a very successful Olympic American alpine skier, Bode Miller, who won six medals said, “People don’t like to admit they have flaws. Instead they prefer to focus on their strengths.”

The problem with this attitude is that you limit how much you could improve, as your strengths are already there, and you are forced to concentrate on making minimal improvements in an already high standard of performance. In fact, there is more scope in reducing your weaknesses.

Miller decided to focus on reducing his weaknesses and his performance improved substantially.

The moral of this secret is ‘Don’t be afraid to admit your flaws; it might help you in your personal development’.

3. The Power of Imagination

The famous poet Judah Halevi defines a truly great person as one who has complete control over his/her mind and has the uncanny ability to visualise events.

He was referring to the skill of mentally rehearsing potential roadblocks in advance, which would mean that you could prepare and train for the unexpected.

Take for example Bob Bowman, who was the swimming coach of 23-time Olympic winner gold medallist Michael Phelps. Under his tutelage, Phelps was named American swimmer of the year from 2001 to 2004. What Bowman stressed to his star student was the concept of mental visualisation. This proved to be very useful for the champion swimmer, as Bowman taught him that things can sometimes go wrong and you have two choices: you can either view them as a disaster and mentally knock yourself, or you can look at the situation as a challenge. By anticipating bad things happening, you can mentally rehearse how to handle them.

Another application of this concept was highlighted by the captain of USA gold medal women’s hockey team after the USA beat Canada. She said with great enthusiasm, “We knew we were going to win. We played this game 20 times over in our heads.”

It would not be difficult for senior business leaders to adapt and use these three secrets of Olympian success in their business lives. There’s a gold medal and winner’s podium waiting out there for those with the determination to give it their all.

Dr Henry Fabian is a Director of T2: www.t2linguistics.com.

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