Things I learned from the Paralympics

A very different experience to the Olympics really and a whole set of different conclusions for me. Here are 10 that struck me forcibly.

1. The resilience of the human spirit. Many of the athletes had their lives turned upside down in a second quite literally. And from that moment they had an extraordinary struggle to get their lives back. I was struck by the medal winning cyclist who was urged onto a stationary bike by a doctor because there seemed to me some muscle feeling in one leg. He took ten minutes to turn the pedals twice and was completely exhausted by the experience.

But he persevered and persevered and could turn the pedals, then ride a bike slowly and finally he was a paralympic medalist. Extraordinary tenacity and courage. Not only about riding a bike, but getting back meaning in your life.

2. The focus on what you can do: your abilities, rather than all the things you can’t do: your disabilities. Take the positive out of this, have self belief and determination to show what you can do better than anyone else. The wheelchair basket ballers were not just disabled athletes but athletes. Put someone with no disability in a wheel chair to compete and they would be completely outplayed.

3. Courage, demonstrated everywhere. What must it take to be launched into a swimming pool with hardly any arms or legs for balance, support and buoyancy. Yet some of the disabled swimmers were grace itself in the water and seemed in their element.

4. Find out what you love doing and do it really well. There was huge passion demonstrated by the athletes that went beyond commitment. Many were so obviously happy doing their sport and being successful obviously helped with the rest of their lives.

5. Tenacity pays off. The line of progress was so painfully slow for the vast majority of athletes, yet they stuck at it and measured the inch by inch forward movement.

6. Take a long view rather than expect miracles quickly. The astonishing achievements of individuals and teams were not instant responses but borne of many months or years of preparation. The points system for basketball teams for instance meant a close relationship of individuals that could balance the different capacities of the individuals to make the best team possible.

7. Pick your mentors carefully. They too had to have patience and accept microscopic improvement and still be encouraging and positive. They demonstrated the power of empathy.

8. Mind and body come together. It was so obvious that the mind had to be fixed first before the body had a chance and then both had to work together to achieve that level of commitment and determination to succeed.

9. Doing your best was a relative concept not always reflected in the scores and times. Some admirable achievements were achieved by people who did not win but gained significantly improved personal bests. In that world, all things were not equal and categorising different kinds of ability meant some were at an advantage and some not. But that did not stop remarkable achievements and taking the recognition for a job well done.

10. Mutual respect. Everyone was out to do well but there was huge sympathy and a great team spirit. The athletes showed understanding and respect for their colleagues and celebrated their differences and different abilities.

Lessons for Organisations

There is a huge lesson around talent here. Everyone company that employs people will have staff of different abilities from different backgrounds. The best organisations will try to ensure that as many people as possible get into their element, and achieve something remarkable in their terms, and this should be acknowledged. It is unfair to pitch an Olympian against a Paralympian for the most part yet seeing both on the podium it is hard to say one achievement is greater than the other. It also argues for tolerance and patience in developing staff and above all a sense of respect.

If you want to drill down, then I would never run 360 feedback again where the only focus is on individual weakness and what you do to improve. It should be more on what you can do, and helping you do those things even better.

I hope that this spirit is a lasting legacy of the Olympic summer in London.

5 Responses to “Things I learned from the Paralympics” - Leave a Comment

  1. I went to both the Olympics and Paralympics and found both experiences inspiring but the simple pleasure in participating came across so strongly at the Paralympics that it left a lasting impression on me. We all have difficult things to deal with in our lives and it’s easy to look at those who appear ‘more successful’ or ‘luckier’ than us and think that our contribution is less valuable but you only have to think about the courage and determination of those amazing Paralympians to remember that ‘success’ can be measured in so many ways.

  2. Dear Nigel
    I enjoyed reading this blog . They are great take-aways and examples of courage
    from extraordinary people. It is a testimony and an inspiration for each of us
    to make deliberate choices and commitment to life and for the people around us.
    Every day brings the opportunity(yes) to make an incremental difference in your own life and the people surrounding you at home, work and your community.
    Best
    J.P.

  3. Great blog Nigel. Our whole family found the paralympics inspiring too! The biggest outcome – we ceased to think of the athletes as victims, and started to believe in them as people. When you’re cheering for someone in a race, the disability ceases to be important, you just want them to do their best. And they did, and they did us proud.

  4. Nigel, you’re right that the Paralympics were an inspiring time. And I would add one more thing to your list of ten – trying is everything. Even in the great performance of Team GB, three quarters of the competitors finished the game without a medal. But these competitors were still part of a winning team. While not everyone is a winner, everyone contribute by adding their piece to the overall effort or by backing those who will gain honors. Leaders should never just concentrate on the stars in their team.

    • Ara as usual a great comment and one I wholly endorse. Thanks for that

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