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5 business leadership lessons from volunteering at the 2012 Olympics

Day 3 of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. (Credit: London 2012)

With the 2012 Summer Olympics now closed, the world looks back on the records and excitement generated from the London games, where I was lucky enough to be part of the action as a volunteer.

As I reflect on one of the most amazing experiences of my lifetime, here are five business leadership lessons I learned from the games:

  1. Promoting a strong workplace climate. The workplace climate is crucial. Research shows that creating the right climate has a direct impact on performance. Consciously or not, the Olympic team leaders created a positive climate that kept all volunteers engaged. With some volunteers and security staff working for up to 16 days in a row, this engagement was essential for the overall success of the games. To ensure the perfect workplace climate, business leaders must instill clarity, high standards, commitment, responsibility, teamwork and recognition. As a volunteer, my team and I dealt with some very important people, world leaders and executives of international organizations. Our group was under incredible pressure with exacting standards and sometimes unexpected and surprising demands.
  2. Maintaining positive attitudes. It was vital that team leaders maintained positive appearances, understood the standards they set and demonstrated strong commitment. They exhibited the behaviors asked from their team. They recognized teamwork through consistent communication — whether face to face or via e-mail –and remained supportive regardless of the time of day. They absorbed all the pressures and did not pass it down to their team. These are key skills that business leaders must possess.
  3. Encouraging teamwork. Ensuring all contributors knew they were working as part of a team was essential to success. The same is true for businesses, and it is the role of business leaders to initiate, maintain and control the collaboration throughout companies. I knew both my volunteer responsibilities and also how my role fit into the overall landscape. This allowed me to see the bigger picture and understand how each role contributed to the event’s overall success.
  4. Preparing for crisis. With a staff of roughly 200,000, including volunteers, employees, contractors and security, and not to mention athletes and audiences from all around the world, there was plenty of room for error. Business leaders must learn to communicate effectively not only with their teams, but also with all parties involved. These can include service providers, competitors, potential clients and extended-network contacts.
  5. Being able to problem solve in the moment. Of course, there are processes in place and a crisis plan, but if the unimaginable happens, good leaders must be able to make sound judgments spontaneously. The decisions may not be perfect in hindsight, but the goal needs to be mitigating risk.

Graham Scrivener is a managing director, EMEA, at The Forum Corp., a Boston-based premiere learning organization.