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Inspired by our Olympians!


Lauren Steadman's silver medal from Rio

As restrictions have eased back, competitive sport has returned to our screen – Wimbledon, the Euros and the weekend’s closing ceremony marking the end of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (albeit in 2021!). Previously it has only ever been World Wars (in 1916, 1940 and 1944) that have resulted in the cancellation of the Games.


Tokyo 2020 will always the Games associated with the Coronavirus – when the preparations of athletes around the world were continually hampered by Covid-19 restrictions. The Olympics can capture the imagination of many of us – as we have found ourselves tuning it at breakfast time to catch up with the overnight medals tally – often to sports which we didn’t know we were interested in. Who knew, for example, that the outcome of a Taekwondo match could change in the last 10 seconds!


The absolute determination and dedication of the athletes to their goal is nothing short of inspiring. Many of us will remember Tom Daley making his Olympic Debut in 2008 as a 14-year-old – finally 13 years later, in 2021 he wins gold. Perhaps it was the swimmers that caught your imagination, the incredible feats of Laura and Jason Kenny in the Velodrome, Sky winning bronze on the skate-board, Charlotte getting up after a crash to win Gold on the BMX …. the list goes on. I can still remember hearing Para-Olympian Lauren Steadman speak at a business breakfast about 4 years ago … and her absolute determination that in Tokyo, she would turn her silver Triathlon medal into gold. Fingers crossed for her!


Delving deeper into professional support there are several parallels which can be drawn with business – in particular the absolute clarity around an objective and strategic focus. I have the pleasure of leading the education and music charity, Services For Education. As was the case for many organisations, we were on the cusp of launching our 5-year strategy …. and then the pandemic arrived. Our strategy was always intended to be a road-map, under continual annual review, responding to the challenges of the day … we just hadn’t quite anticipated so many of them!


Hopefully, and very cautiously there might be the beginnings of an end in sight with the pandemic – and as an organisation we enter a recovery phase. I may be biased but what all our teams at SFE have achieved during the last 18 months has been incredible, pivoting overnight to the online environment. Now we enter a period of consolidating that learning and building back – better and stronger as a charity.


As I have reflected on our organisational focus for 2021/22, I have been inspired by the story of the Olympic 8-man rowing team in Barcelona 1992. Admittedly the GB rowers have struggled a little at Tokyo – but the Barcelona tale is incredible. Four years earlier in Seoul they came last – as they started preparations for 1992 they realised that they couldn’t just do more of the same. Instead at each training session they asked themselves a simple question … ‘Will it make the Boat Go Faster?’ * In other words would it contribute to their gold medal goal. If it didn’t ,they didn’t do it – which even meant that they stayed in on the night of the opening ceremony!


We aren’t aiming for a gold medal at SFE (although we have been encouraged by some recent Award wins including 'Excellence in Training and Education' at the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Awards) – but we can still have our ‘Boat Go Faster’ overarching goals for 2021/22. This has meant re-prioritising some of the projects which we originally envisaged in year 2 of our strategy … but that is the right thing to do, as part of our ‘Building Back’ plans.


Being a charity based in Birmingham, the attention now shifts in the sporting world to the Commonwealth Games and Birmingham 2022 – a significant event that will put our city on the world stage. Beyond strategic parallels with professional sport, I suspect there are also individual learnings when it comes to leadership. I will continue to delve into this theme a little more, and perhaps explore them further in a subsequent blog.


* Will it Make the Boat Go Faster by Ben Hunt Davis, www.willitmaketheboatgofaster.com

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