Throughout the month of February, we have a rare opportunity to hear a language that to many may seem foreign. It is one that only happens every two years. It’s the language of champions. From Friday, February 9th to Sunday, February 25th, we get to hear this language during the Winter Olympics.

At the conclusion of the closing ceremony, we are given a choice. We can bask in the glory of the Olympics, reflect on our champions, and wait ingloriously for the next Summer Olympics in 2020. Or, we can learn to speak “champion” ourselves.

There are champions among us. Always reaching to achieve goals that others deem impossible. They have a standard few understand – some do not understand because they have never witnessed a champion in person, others make the choice to not associate with champions. For them, it’s too difficult to grasp that there is greatness that they do not have the will to achieve. But the great thing about champions is that their personal drive is contagious, and they don’t mind sharing it. They, however, do not comprise on their journey to greatness.

So, while you watch the Olympians this month, listen to their stories with intent, for they are speaking “champion”. If you listen close enough, you may hear this language elsewhere. Chances are there is a champion in your organization. The challenge is knowing what to look for.

At Solutions 21, we have spent a significant amount of time researching and studying World Class Performers and there are two points that we know to be true. First, there are certain things World Class Performers consistently do that set them apart. Second, they are not all famous.

In their book, “Gen Y Now: Millennials and the Evolution of Leadership,” Buddy Hobart, the Founder and President of Solutions 21, and Herb Sendek, the head basketball coach at Santa Clara University, describe nine behaviors consistent with World Class Performers.

Here are 9 things to listen for during the Olympics that are universal characteristics of World Class Performers:

  1. Use performance feedback or “game film.”
    Seeing yourself for who you truly are is the only way to tune your performance. How you see yourself in your mind and how you perform in reality are not always in alignment. The only way to get there is to get real-time feedback.
  2. Turn unconscious, negative tendencies into conscious positive choices.
    The discipline to make great choices requires sacrifice, and few are willing to sacrifice to achieve greatness. Chances are we will rarely listen to an Olympic athlete’s story without hearing them talk about sacrifices they have made to become World Class.
  3. Practice energy management.
    Choosing how you spend your time is truly challenging. Olympic athletes do not spend time on things that do not help them become champions – they are too focused, disciplined, and efficient to allow that to happen. They use their energy wisely and apply it to things that get them closer to, not further from, their goals.
  4. Realize that what is required for improvement may be counterintuitive.
    As any athlete can attest: “No pain. No gain.” I saw a commercial during the Super Bowl that featured Lindsey Vonn, the American Downhill Skier. Her scarred knee was focused in the shot while she balanced on an exercise ball, while doing a squat, while practicing her form, while strengthening her core. What?! Not only was it impressive, but given the fact that she is recovering from a knee injury, it looked painful! She probably didn’t want to subject herself to that pain, but she knows that it takes counterintuitive exercises to get her to her goal of being a champion… again.
  5. Develop a clear vision.
    World Class Performers define their goal and practice extreme focus to get themselves and their organization to achieve that goal. They will not be distracted by curve balls, shiny objects, or minor distractions. They take the time to establish a clear vision, effectively communicate that vision to themselves and others, and do whatever it takes to maintain focus.
  6. Seek out coaches and mentors.
    Champions surround themselves with great coaches and mentors, who we will also see during the Olympics. Coaches are the folks who drive the champions. They are task oriented and will do whatever it takes to get their champions to peak performance levels. We will see mentors, as well, who have been by the champions’ side during their journey. Mentors are emotional stalwarts and will instill confidence through mere glances, single words, or hugs of congratulations… and consolation. Champions have coaches and mentors – notice their behaviors during the Olympics. I know I will be taking notes.
  7. Develop tactical and measurable action plans.
    Almost every commercial advertising the Olympics shows athletes practicing. Some are shown sharpening the skills for their actual events while others are shown doing some sort of spartan-like drill. All of it is connected to becoming a champion. World Class Performers develop action plans to achieve their goals, incrementally preparing themselves for inevitable victory. It takes that level of extreme focus to achieve greatness. Also, see #5 above.
  8. Recover from losses quickly.
    World Class Performers do not win every time. Chances are that we will see many athletes fail at some point throughout the next two weeks. When it happens, watch what happens next. The champion will get up, focus on their goal, and continue working towards it. For they have learned that it only takes one small mistake to lose, or regain, the top spot. Champions recover quickly and look for the next opportunity to win.
  9. Use positive self-talk.
    I love to read the lips of the skiers before the beep sounds. They have that little plastic stick in front of their shins and they are standing there ready to launch down a hill that would likely make many people shrink in fear. Watch their lips. They are telling themselves how to win. I can guarantee you they aren’t saying, “Second place is okay, too.” No! They are reaffirming their desired outcome and telling themselves how they will win.

At some point over the next few weeks, turn on the Olympics and take in this truly special opportunity to see World Class Performers in action and hear the language of champions. This is our chance to observe greatness, learn from example, and ponder whether we truly understand this unique language.

It is also an opportunity to ask yourself the following questions: Does your organization enable champions? Does it celebrate champions? Does it speak the language of champions?

If not, are you willing to learn?