Lessons from Olympians Part 2: How to develop and motivate talent like America’s best

Lessons from Olympians Part 2:

How to develop and motivate talent like America’s best

By: Mike McDonough


In our last article we took a look at Olympian Michael Phelps and passed along how the motivation and mentorship skills he uses can translate into keeping your own veteran employees happy and producing on the job. In this article, we’ll look at the other end of the experience spectrum and share how 19-year-old gymnast Simone Biles came to dominate her sport at an early age. The lessons we see from her training and success can be put to use in your organization to identify and develop internal talent to be your next wave of leadership.


Natural talent

Simone has it. There’s no denying it. And at some level you have to have some natural skills before you’re pegged to be a future champion. USA’s coach spotted Simone while she was on a field trip at a gymnastics studio, but she was just a bouncy kid that looked to have a spark and a lot of potential. Coaches saw her natural ability and what she had the potential to become. Biles is an incredible athlete, has a drive and personality that let her train for hours, and is only 4’8. That low center of gravity provides an advantage to gymnasts and has helped Biles become arguably the most dominant gymnast of all time. The coaches spotted all of those qualities and started using them to help Simone reach the pinnacle of gymnastics success.


It’s just as important to try and spot employees who possess the potential to grow into future executives. Do you have someone willing to put in the extra hours or a young leader who knows how to think strategically? It could just be as simple as talking to a new employee who’s not afraid to speak up at meetings or question the strategy behind a project. Oftentimes businesses only look for ready-made leaders, who are trained outside of the organization and can be expensive to bring into the fold, but by identifying people with leadership potential early, you can save yourself gaps in talent and costly hires in the future. Remember, these young professionals don’t have to be perfect right away, they just need to show an openness to learn and a little natural talent for the position you’re training them for.


Great coaches

Young talent doesn’t need to be perfect, just coachable. Simone Biles is driven, but she has to have fun too. She routinely butts heads with her coaches about moves and needs the freedom to try different stunts in practice, even if they’ll never make it to the routine. Luckily Simone found a coach in Aimee Boorman (pictured with Biles below) who embraces all of these qualities and uses them to fuel her training, not hinder it.


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Just like Simone needed Aimee to help reach her full potential, your future leaders need mentors to guide them through the ins and outs of climbing the corporate ladder. This can be a great opportunity to energize your baby boomers by pairing them with an up-and-coming star that could benefit from their experience and knowledge. Cross-generational teams can also be a great way to guide potential future leaders by exposing them to trusted employees at multiple levels of your organization. Don’t let your most seasoned executives leave for retirement without sharing what made them successful with your next wave of talent.



Simone trains 32 hours a week. She spreads that out over six days, but typically comes in on the seventh too for some strength work and to iron out any kinks she saw throughout the week. This is in addition to her full-time schoolwork. The willingness to put in the extra time and dedication to her craft are a few of the things that make her one of the most elite gymnasts on the planet.


Of course you can’t expect young employees to put in nearly 40 hours per week training on top of their full-time job, but these days training is quickly becoming someone else’s problem. Companies look to external candidates who have the training and mentorship they fail to provide their own new hires. This leads to a costly and troublesome talent gap. As baby boomers retire and younger employees take the reigns, many of them don’t have the on-the-job training that baby boomers benefited from for years. By creating and implementing a training program now, your company will see the benefits for years to come.


Exceptional people still need the right guidance and training before they become the leaders your company needs. If they have to get that training and mentorship somewhere else, they can be expensive to bring into your organization. Proper talent evaluation, mentorship and training can save your company thousands in hiring costs and help keep your best and brightest inside your walls. If Simone’s story can teach us anything, it’s that a little investment in talent can lead to solid-gold returns.

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