Business leaders may have thought that the Olympics were sucking the productivity out of their employees. But if they took a closer look those same business leaders might have gleaned some lessons for the business world from the Olympics. Take the case of well, Michael Phelps, of course. After Phelps stellar performance at the Beijing Olympics he could have chosen to keep his eyes on the possible prize at the London Olympics. Knowing the potential for becoming the greatest athlete of all time with the most gold medals ever, he should have jumped right into a nearby pool and started swimming. But he did not. We all know what he did. And that was before his famous escapade to Las Vegas while his coach stewed.
If not for being excessively content with his accomplishments, Phelps could have won more gold and more medals in general. So says John Kotter, a widely regarded leadership expert. Kotter believes that business leaders also fall into the trap of being contented with their accomplishments, resting on their laurels – no matter how few those laurels might be. (Laurel wreaths were a form of recognition for excellence back in the good old days in Athens.) Kotter believes that leaders who rest on their laurels go on to ignore wakeup calls, rationalizing away failures rather than get themselves into “training” mode for the next opportunity. Of course, others might say that in spite of his laurel resting time, Michael Phelps still managed to accomplish great things. But it would be hard to apply that to leadership strategies.