What keeps Olympic athletes attracted and engaged?
This summer I spent my nights immersed in the Olympics. I usually value eight hours of sleep, but I could not tear myself away from the magic of those 17 days of competition.
With music blaring and flags waving, thousands of athletes streamed into Olympic Stadium in the parade of athletes, but amidst the pageantry, I wondered what it was that propelled them to that world-class level. Olympic federations, sports organizations and coaches seek out the very best talent that can best represent their countries. But instilling and maintaining the commitment and dedication required to pursue an Olympic medal—that’s a fascinating talent management issue, too.
Why does it work? In part, because the goal is very, very clear: gold medal. (Or, if that’s not in the realm of possibility, to proudly represent your nation.) The deadline is equally clear: be ready by summer 2012, or wait another four years.
Each country’s athletes also have established milestones, such as qualifying times or scores, which they must achieve on their way to the games. They are given experiences that test their mettle, such as national Olympic trials. (These are often “do-or-die” events: win or go home.)
Needless to say, every Olympic athlete is one of the best in the world. Even the swimmer in lane eight (the outside and most disadvantageous lane in swimming), who likely won’t progress out of the first heat, was an elite athlete in his/her home country who was recruited and developed to compete for the gold medal.
What would it mean for the U.S. government to implement its talent management processes for leaders with the same systemic focus? What would it mean to attract, engage, develop, retain, and plan for leadership succession the way Olympic athletic programs do?
Of course in federal government, milestones and deadlines are not as fixed as in the Olympics. Leaders are on stage not just for a few events every four years, but several events every day. But imagine if agencies and administrations sought out exceptional talent—learning agile executives—and developed them into world-class leaders ready to improve his/her agency and assist his/her teammates in achieving their highest potential.
Like Olympic athletes, government leaders strive to do their best for their country. With the right talent management process in place, the U.S. government can find and train those stars who can win the gold.