Recognise where you are and set realistic goals

For any athlete the aim is to win and keep winning. It’s why they train, it’s why they control their diet and why they are prepared to make so many sacrifices. In a lot of sports, the ultimate pinnacle is the Olympics and for many athletes consequently the ultimate prize is Olympic Gold! But watching some of the events unfold at the delayed Tokyo games has been quite revealing. The attitude and reaction of the athletes after the drama has played out is particularly fascinating. It would seem there are four broad groups, and each has something to tell us about business.


The first group is the winners, the gold medallists. They are the best in the world and there can be only one – but two things strike me about these athletes:

  1. They acknowledge the margins. At this very top level of sport victory can often come down to the smallest of margins – a misstep here, a fraction of a second there, and in some sports you can do everything right and a lucky shot or unlucky drop will be the only difference. For the most part these athletes will acknowledge the margins and the strength of the field.
  2. The how (for the moment) ceases to matter. Having said that these winners acknowledge the margins, another observation is that the mistakes and misfortunes completely melt away for that moment on the podium, and probably for a good while after. They will pick up on them again when they get back to training, but for now a win is a win.

Do we take time to enjoy our successes and to celebrate with our teams, or are we too quick to highlight and analyse the things that didn’t go so well?


This second group are a most interesting mix. The disappointment of not winning is etched on their faces but is then overwhelmed by the realisation of the magnitude of what they have actually achieved. As businesses we should never be content to settle for less than we believe we are capable of achieving, but neither should we be too quick to condemn a good performance that got us close to our goals.


In many ways this is the most difficult position to handle, so close to a medal but yet so far from achieving what you set out to win. You would be forgiven for thinking there is little here to celebrate and usually there is a fair amount of disappointment and regret churning inside these athletes. But one thing they have all done is acknowledged the journey. In sport as in business, the last couple of years has been turbulent to say the least. We should all be prepared to cut ourselves some slack when it comes to our performance. Disappointment is a natural reaction to not achieving your goals, but you can either let it overwhelm you or you can use it to spur you on to better things with hopefully a clearer road ahead.


Rightly, the core coverage in the Olympics is reserved for those who win a medal or get close. But for hundreds and hundreds of the athletes participating in the Games, the so-called minor places are the best they can hope for. You might be forgiven for thinking there is little to learn from these athletes – after all, who wants to be an also-ran? But bear with me for a moment… if that was their attitude then they surely wouldn’t bother turning up, but they do! The thing is that for the vast majority of athletes at the Olympics, the realistic hope of winning a medal is slim to none, so they must go for different reasons.

  1. To be there… sometimes we can be so obsessed with winning we forget to take in our surroundings. For many of these athletes the opportunity to compete on the world stage and touch gloves with the best in the world is reason enough. To experience the special atmosphere of the Games is their reason to go, even if they end up coming last.
  2. To learn… oftentimes an athlete who is taking up these minor places is an up-and-coming talent. To gain the experience of competing and of rubbing shoulders with the world elite is the real prize they are after. In business we should always be humble enough to learn from those around us.
  3. Because you’re still special… for the many hundreds who go and don’t win there are many thousands who never got to go at all. Finishing 20th in the Olympics is still better than not even qualifying. It is important to remember in business to acknowledge where we have come from and what we have achieved, not just looking at where we are going and what we haven’t achieved.

One final thought I will leave you with is this. The one thing that all the athletes we have been talking about share is a love of the game. They couldn’t do what they need to do to win if they didn’t enjoy it! And that’s the same for you and me in business. If you would like to discuss your business exit goals then please do make contact with us or call us on 0845 0678 678.

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