Friday, May 20, 2011

Appreciating the quiet aura of success

I spent yesterday morning in the company of the great and the good who link technology education and the workforce environment as part of one of Adecco's 'Unlocking Britain's Potential' round table events. One guy stood out: not for his loud voice or strident opinions; not for the force of his rhetoric or, indeed, any startling originality of contribution. 

That guy was Mark Richardson, a British Olympian who won Silver on the track in Atlanta in 1996. He's a slight guy; not very tall but with a fierce intensity and sense of focus that I've only ever seen in people who have been at the top in their sport. I used to work with a guy called Jon Potter, another Olympian who won a hockey Gold medal. Yesterday I recognised that same sense of calm authority and absolute belief. Each is someone who has benefited from superb coaching in their sporting career and has turned that same approach back into their business life. It's an approach we still use too rarely in the time-pressured atmosphere of the workplace today.

Listening to Mark made me recall the absolute high I felt at age 16 when I broke 54 seconds for the 400m in an early summer school athletics meeting. My time, in benign conditions when I'd been towed round the track by a faster runner (and probably benefited from hand-timing) was almost two seconds under my personal best. I didn't even win the race but it was one of the best feelings I've ever experienced, and briefly, for a few seconds, I felt I could really achieve something in sport. Athletics had been my main focus, but rapidly gave way to O Levels. By the next summer, I had a Saturday job and a girlfriend and the track didn't have anything like the same allure.

Guys like Mark Richardson followed their passion, pushing all other distractions to the side to be the very best. I've no doubt I could and would have shaved a few more seconds off my PB (which would have put me 100m behind the winner at Atlanta!) but I never had the natural talent nor the strength of focus to be more than a decent club athlete. Nor did I have that coaching environment around me to help me to excel.

In business, the best organisations I work with have that ability to bring on excellence; to encourage, to motivate and to celebrate when we get things right. We need a few more Jon Potters and Mark Richardsons in business - more personality, empathy and understanding of that un-bottleable feeling that success delivers.

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