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Want Your Own Olympic Mojo?

The Olympics in Rio have been capturing a great deal of our time and attention recently. So it seemed like the perfect reason to focus this post on some of the lessons learned about teams and leadership.

As many of you know, CrisMarie was an Olympic rower in the women’s 8 with coxswain in the 1988 Games in Seoul, Korea. They finished that race in a disappointing sixth. The year before in the far less renown World Championships, CrisMarie was in the women’s 8 that took Silver. It was a thrilling race that toppled the Russian dominance! It’s an exciting story to hear and one she now uses to emphasis the difference between a boat of champions and a championship boat.

But that is not how she walked away from the Olympics in 1988. No, she walked away thinking she was the cause of the sixth place loss. She walked away never wanting to discuss the Games.

When I first met CrisMarie, I was so excited to get to meet an Olympian. Imagine my surprise when I asked her, “How was it going to the Games?”

Her response, “I don’t talk about. We lost, and I was injured.” Her tone was clipped, terse, and basically a clear – back off signal.

Undeterred, I proceeded with my inquiry, “Really? You think you were a loser? What does that make the rest of us athletes who played but never made it to the games? Super losers?!” I thought I was funny. CrisMarie did not.

I get an athlete being upset when they lose after a tough race. I get the tears, the disappointment and the agony of those moments. But let’s face it, those moments should not result in months, years or decades of believing something that took so much dedication, courage, heart and greatness – gets summed up as being a ‘loser.’

Fortunately, CrisMarie has since worked on what was a painful experience and has now reclaimed her rowing and leadership mojo!

It was with great joy that I got to listen to her commentary of the amazing USA women’s 8 row to their third Olympic Gold. Let’s be clear, these 8 women and the coxswain are not the same women who were in the boat four years ago or 8 years ago.

What is powerful is this Team USA women’s 8 isn’t about any individual rower. No, it’s about the team. For ten years now Team USA has claimed victory in the women’s 8 in all major championships. That is a dynasty that kicks ass in any sport! I actually don’t think any other team sport has that stellar of a record. Well, maybe the Team USA Women’s basketball!

As CrisMarie watched these women row, she wasn’t jealous or sad. She was proud! Proud of that team and proud of her own journey to reclaim her Olympic Mojo.

So what makes that team great?

What really impressed me in listening and watching was the emphasis on Team USA, not any one rower. Later we did learn the names of the individual team members, and that some were repeat Olympians and others were brand new.

The main communication was clear: this boat was going to win or lose together.

During the race, when they were behind they did not panic and increase their stroke rate (CrisMarie was educating me on this!). They trusted themselves and each other, and stayed on their rhythm, which had gotten repeated success. Later, one of the rowers spoke about ‘blacking out’ in the final 500 meters, and yet she was able to row through. Now, that is grit and trust in her team!

So yes, a championship team is greater than a team of champions!

Now let’s talk about leadership.

In this case, the Olympic Coach, Tom Terhaar, has been coaching Team USA for the last 15 years. He is the only constant. But you don’t see him taking credit for what these women are doing. He stays in the background and puts the women in the foreground.

The women on the team make it clear though that he’s a big part of the success of Team USA. He has a different style of leadership. He listens to them. He takes feedback. He is a master of motivation. One team member said, “He give us the tools to go out there, the belief we can do it, and he likes it when we take hold and make it our own.”

My guess is that if and when Team USA does lose the race that breaks the world championship dynasty, Tom will step forward and take responsibility rather than letting any one women walk away thinking she was why they lost.

Some leaders, and even some good leaders, need to have their name at the top and ensure people know who is calling the shots.

Great leaders know that really isn’t what matters. They are solid in their own mastery and don’t need the applause or credit for the win. They also know when it is time to step up and be accountable.

These haven’t always been the defining characteristics of coaches.

Thus, CrisMarie’s take away from six years of elite rowing with only two losses in her entire rowing career, a list of college and national team victories, was the belief she was a cause of the Olympic loss.


I know she is not the only athlete who has been broken by iron-fisted leadership. And I am so thrilled that at the Olympic level there are some recognizing the true meaning of team and what it takes to lead or guide that team to greatest!

Back to Rio!

I loved watching those rowers. I also have enjoyed seeing the Silver and Bronze metal winners smiling and excited to be at the top!

It is hard to be the best individually AND be a team player, yet in this Olympics there have been many moments that highlight it is possible! This tension between individual and team success is true both in sports and also in business.

Think about yourself at the office. When do you focus on your own success, and when are you more dedicated to team success?

Sometimes the two are not mutually exclusive, but often times they are. Always choosing one over the other isn’t the answer, but we have each had a heart-opening experience when we see someone sacrifice their own individual success for the good of the team or another.

This was showcased at the Olympics in the women’s 5000 meters track event, when a fall took place and Abbie D’Agostino stopped to help another fallen runner, Nikki Hamblin. Abbie set aside her own hopes of making the final because she believed it more important to make sure they both finished.

Or take swimmer Missy Franklin, five-time medalist in 2012, who was expected to rock in the pool at Rio. However she didn’t. Missy couldn’t explain why she wasn’t swimming well, but she still put the team first. Her teammate, Maya DiRado, said it all, “I know no higher compliment than you would never know how she’s swimming based on how she’s interacting with the team. That’s the sign of a true champion and a true leader, and I just wanted her to know that.”

What would it mean for you to access your Olympic Mojo?

It’s for you to decide each day how you show up and bring yourself to the office, but I’m telling you, we could all learn a lot from these Olympic athletes and especially, Team USA women’s 8 rowers!

CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke are Master certified life coaches, business consultants, speakers and authors of The Beauty of Conflict. They believe real relationships are the key to creating great business results. They’ll take your team from mediocre to great.

Want to take a class? Sign up for one of their virtual classes: Get Unstuck, Relationship Mojo or come to their signature retreat Find Your Mojo in Montana. Click here to check out all their service offerings.

Click here to contact them to coach with you, consult with your team, or speak at your next event.


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