The Olympics: teamwork and leadership in action


While the Olympics this year has been a bit controversial, I’ve been enjoying it for the displays of wonderful sportsmanship. My favourite – huge surprise – are the equestrian events. And, they’ve made me realise what a great leadership and teamwork teaching opportunity it is.


Who has been enjoying the Olympics?

I know many people disagreed with the decision to continue with the Olympics this year in the middle of a global pandemic. This is totally understandable when so many aspects of life are challenging and uncertain right now.

I’ve personally always loved the Olympics for bringing the world together. I admire the feats of athletes in every sport and thought if these athletes who had been training for years to attend wanted to go ahead, then I will honour that commitment by watching and enjoying the events. Just look at the refugee Olympic team and the unbelievable hardship they’ve overcome to make it there.

No prizes for guessing my favourite events…

Yep. The equestrian events, of course. No surprises there. Equestrian is the only sport where men and women compete equally and age does not matter. The Australian dressage team and the two individual Australian Show Jumping riders are all women. One of my favourite moments so far was watching our dressage rider, Mary Hanna, and her beautiful horse, Calanta, compete. Tokyo is Mary’s sixth’s Olympics. She is 66 years old. Gosh – as an amateur rider in my mid 50s myself, I hope I can still enjoy pleasure ride then, let alone compete for my country. Astounding!

And, watching the Olympics has made me think about how much we have to learn from sport – both watching and participating – about teamwork and leadership. We see the value of camaraderie and healthy competition. It reminds us of the importance of commitment, courage and communication.

In this article, I’ve taken one quality from each equestrian discipline to highlight these leadership skills.

Dressage = Commitment

Watching the Olympic dressage is a beautiful example of pure teamwork between the rider and the horse. To the untrained eye, it can look easy – just a dance with your horse around the arena. I can assure you it’s anything but easy! This dance requires a total dedication and commitment. Years of training and practice. Two hearts and brains working together as one.

Commitment is what keeps us going in times of adversity and challenge. Leaders continually evaluate their commitment to their people and to their purpose. And commitment ignites action and inspires dedication from your team.

Eventing = Courage

Eventing encompasses three equestrian disciplines- dressage, show jumping and cross country – in one event. The horse and rider combination must excel in each phase. For me the cross country phase in particular requires a lot of courage. You can have all the skills, an excellent horse/human team, and be prepared and confident, but to compete at the Olympics you need to push yourself and your horse that bit further. Doing this requires courage.

In leadership as in life, bravery is necessary. To try sometime new, even if you might fail. Bravery is standing up for your values and looking after others.

Show jumping = Communication

To someone who isn’t familiar with the sport, show jumping can look easy. The concept is easy – get around the course without knocking any obstacles down in the fastest time. However, it is a very technical sport that requires a solid strategy from the rider that then needs to be communicated to the horse.

This is a great parallel for leaders in business. Leaders are responsible for putting company strategies in place and communicating clearly on what they are. They too have to think in an agile way if things don’t go according to plan.

So, there you have it – my take on equestrian at the Olympics and what it teaches us about leadership, teamwork, competition and camaraderie.

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