London Calling: Lessons From the Triumphs and Defeats at the Olympics


Even though its first week is just wrapping up, these London Olympic Games have been full of truly memorable triumphs and defeats. Watching Michael Phelps take his place as the greatest Olympian ever was just one soaring milestone. On the flip side was the abyss created by world champion Jordyn Wieber’s failure to qualify for the individual all-around final in gymnastics.

For Team USA’s Wieber, it was likely her greatest personal defeat— ever. But it wasn’t the most consuming one, because in less than 48 hours, the resilient 17-year-old dynamo won gold, along with her fellow Fab 5 teammates, in the women’s gymnastics team finals. How did she do it?

“I just stayed in my little bubble and got refocused,” Wieber explained.

And sometimes, that’s exactly what you have to do in business when the chips fall fast and hard – move on and refocus.

I should know. I recently had to do that after a win for my company turned sour. In less than two weeks my team went from riding high as the victors of a competitive bid award to feeling kicked in the gut with unexpected news that the project was suddenly put “on hold.”

Emotional freefall? Absolutely. But like Wieber, we quickly rallied, got refocused and learned some valuable lessons.

Here are a few of them that might help you and your team rebound from adversity:

1. Keep moving on. Take a cue from Martha Karolyi, the team coordinator for the women’s gymnastics team, who recalibrated Wieber with these words: “The competition is not over. We have the team finals. We have to get a medal for all of us.” I couldn’t agree more. In fact, my team set sight on new business opportunities by collectively working a proposal for new business within days of the dismal news. You can give yourself a little bit of time to feel bad about the loss – but don’t get bogged down by it. You have to look ahead to future projects.

2. Keep emotions in check. This business win was a really big emotional high for my team. The project was something that jazzed us all up. But after things unraveled, I quickly realized while being excited about a project is one thing, you can’t get emotionally swept up in it. You have to unplug from that and get to work. Don’t let emotions get the best of you.

3. Trust your gut. I dismissed my first gut reaction. When the first sign popped up that there was a rocky road on the client side that needed smoothing, I should have followed my gut to probe for more details. The warning signs were there, and I dismissed them. Bottom-line: Follow your instincts.

4. Acknowledge people’s feelings.  When it comes to this, I think you have to have a personal touch. Have a face-to-face meeting with your team to talk about what happened and why. This isn’t email chatter. If you can’t round up members together then call each one personally. Listen to their feedback and acknowledge the highs and lows. Let them know that we can rally from the setback and move forward.

5. Ask everyone, “What could we have done differently?” Even though we got the win initially, maybe we didn’t ask enough of the right questions up front about the project. We got very focused on some of the tactics and perhaps didn’t have a sharper strategic outlook. I think you have to think of it like a weather forecast: Mostly sunny, with a chance of showers. We didn’t think our parade would be rained on in just two weeks, but look what happened to Jordyn Wieber. No one dreamed she wouldn’t make the cut. For my team, in the end, we became more acutely aware of how tough doing business really is these days.

6. Keep the lines of communication open on all levels. Heed the great advice of our company’s CFO who noted, “Don't just practice good communication practices inside the company – use them with your vendors as well. Treat them like team members not adversaries.” Keep messages to the team sugar-free. That means, tell it straight. One team member credited our candid discussions for helping her to quickly recover from the loss. “There was no fluff, it was straight to the point and I was constantly in the loop of communication,” she said. “To me, whether good or bad news, it is always better to know what is going on with a client at all times so I know what to expect.”

Although my team won’t be standing on a podium anytime soon with gold medals dangling from our necks, we’ve come up smarter and more determined to win following this experience. It has made me stronger as a leader and has shown how much of a team we are.

That’s how Jordyn Wieber said she felt about her initial Olympic defeat and eventual team triumph.

Different arenas. Similar learning—for the long run.

What have you done to overcome a setback on the job, take our quick poll and let us know.

Linda Dulye is internationally recognized for helping many companies go spectator free. A former communications leader for GE and Allied Signal, Linda established Dulye & Co.   in 1998 with a practical, process-driven approach for improving communications and collaboration through an engaged workforce— a formidable competitive advantage, that she calls a Spectator-Free Workplace™.