Leadership Essentials – Gold Medal Leadership


The difference between peak performing leaders and the rest is

that they focus on the few things that make the biggest impact.

This article identifies the 6 disciplines of Gold Medal Leadership:

1. Be clear on what gold looks like

2. Effective communication

3. Get out of the way

4. Take your own medicine

5. Build your team

6. Focus on follow-through and results

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October 2010: Athletes from 71 nations converged in New Delhi,

India to compete in the 260 events of the Commonwealth Games.

The “entry ticket” to the Games was that the athletes had to be at

the top of their sports in their own countries. The competitors who

were proudly marching in the opening ceremony had already been

gold medal winners on their home turf.

I watched the final of the women’s squash. Malaysia’s world squash

champion Datuk Nicol David looked cool and very efficient on her

way to winning the gold medal. While she made it look easy, like all

champions, she would tell us that winning takes a lot of effort. I

imagined the years of discipline and focus that Nicol had devoted in

her quest to becoming a peak performer, a world champion, and

now, a Commonwealth gold medalist.

I then started to ask myself whether Nicol’s gold medal winning

principles could be applied to the “game of leadership”. That’s the

game that readers of this article most likely play. In doing so, I

identified a number of principles that I have called the 6 Principles of

Gold Medal Leadership. These are the disciplines of leadership that

leaders and managers can learn from athletes like Nicol who

consistently operate at peak performance.

Focus on a few things

Peak sporting performers focus on the few things that make the

biggest difference to their success. No matter what sport, there will

be some common factors, including fitness, diet, lots of rest,

strength, technique and psychology. Nicol David undoubtedly

disciplines herself to stay fit. Despite the calorie-filled temptations

that she is exposed to in her world travels, she ensures that she eats

food that will be good for her. There will be no shortage of social

events and late nights available to Nicol. But she maintains the

discipline of getting lots of good sleep. She goes to the gym to

maintain fitness and strength. This takes time and lots of sweat –

and it is not always a lot of fun! She no doubt spends time

continually working on her playing technique. And I am sure that she

keeps thinking like a winner.

A few


factors lead

to success

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So, what are the disciplines that leaders should focus on to create

peak performing teams and organisations? What are the few things

that leaders and managers have to focus on to be gold medal

leaders? The first question for you is to ask yourself whether you

have identified what you really need to focus on as a leader of your

team or organisation. If you want to be a gold medal leader, the

starting point is to be clear on what you need to devote your

attention to!

The 6 Disciplines of Gold Medal Leadership

The first discipline is to be clear on what the gold medal looks

like. As a leader, where are you leading your team to? Do you have

clarity on what success looks like? Does your team know where they

are heading, and what their common purpose is? Do you know what

your company’s vision is? How often do you talk about your

company’s vision in your team meetings? If you are clear on where

you are taking your team, then you have a much greater chance of

getting there!

Effective communication is a second discipline practised by gold

medal leaders. I have been privileged to come across leaders who

practice this discipline most effectively. They keep their teams up to

date on progress. And they communicate one-to-one with individuals

to stay on track. I have seen other leaders and managers who are

focused on strategy and on doing reports and other “important stuff”.

These are leaders who spend far too little time on the discipline of

being visible within the team, communicating with them, making

them feel valued and connecting them to the higher purpose. These

leaders keep asking themselves why their teams under-perform. It’s

a bit like a long distance runner who spends too little time on fitness

training and then asks himself why he is coming last in his races.

A third discipline is to get out of the way. John Harvey-Jones, the

acclaimed British head of ICI said that it’s important to give people

“head room.” This means trusting your team members and

empowering them to do their jobs. Getting out of the way includes

having your people feel free to come up with ideas on how to drive

the business forward – and to be allowed to implement those ideas.

The alternative is to micro-manage, with the result that the team will

depend on the leader for decisions. A team that stands still until the

leader says “it’s okay to walk” will never be a high performing team.

Does your

team have a

clear picture

of where they

are heading?

Give your



“head room” –

get out of the


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As a leader, it’s important that you build trust among your team. A

fourth discipline of success therefore is to “take your own

medicine”. Your people will watch your behaviours. Your team

members will believe your behaviours before they believe the words

that you say. It’s not what you say, but rather, what you do that

makes the difference. As Gandhi said, “You must be the change that

you want to see”. This is about role modeling. If you want your team

members to responsive to their customers, you’d better make sure

that you are responsive to them. Kouzes and Posner, in their book,

The Leadership Challenge, refer to this as “model the way.”

The fifth discipline is to build your team. This means taking time to

get the best people on board. High performance is created by high

performing teams. Building your team means spending time

coaching them to better performance.

And, of course, the sixth discipline is to focus on follow through

and results. Gold medal leaders WILL achieve results through their

people, and they WILL build strong, committed teams, provided they

focus on the disciplines of gold medal leadership. I have seen many

managers who focus on the seventh discipline – results, results,

results. They drive people hard to achieve their KPIs. The problem is

that they do not build an organisation that is fit and healthy to play

the game. They may achieve results, but create tired organisations

and tired people. Imagine if Nicol was to focus just on technique.

What would happen to her game? She would soon tire and run out

of puff on the court. In short, focusing on results is important, but if

the other disciplines of success are ignored, you will not build a

sustainably high performing team.

If you review the 6 Disciplines, you will note that the first 5 are about

the “soft stuff” – the intangibles which have a big impact on people –

clear direction, effective communication, get out of the way, role

modeling and build your team. There is a message here. It is that

results are created through people.

We are all busy and seem to have too much to do in too little time.

Gold medal leaders are just as busy as the rest of us. The difference

between these peak performing leaders and the rest is that they

focus on the few things that make the biggest impact. Your mission

for next week is to review your activities over a week. Categorise

how much time you spend on each of the 6 Disciplines. You may

find gaps which will present opportunities to quickly achieve a

personal best. Until next month!

People believe



more than

they believe

your words

5 out of the 6

disciplines are

about the

“soft stuff”

©2010 TMI Consultancy Sdn Bhd | www.tmimalaysia.com.my.my | Page 5 of 5


Copyright © 2010 by George Aveling

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