The day it was announced that the UK had won the race to host the London 2012 Olympic Games, I became determined to take my family to see the greatest sporting event in the world. My grandson Ben was 1 year old at the time, but by 2012 I knew he would be old enough to both appreciate and remember the experience.
Business school and management courses teach us the critical importance of organisations aligning behind a compelling vision with a clear strategy, coupled with resourcing programmes led by capable and determined leaders who act decisively with passion and enthusiasm and inspire their teams to achieve excellence in everything they do. In this respect the leadership teams accountable for delivering the 2012 London Olympic Games excelled in nearly every area and this was borne out by our own experience.
We were lucky to get tickets through the ballot and 3 generations of the family and 2 friends attended the Athletics and the Diving on Super Saturday. Against the background of media-inspired gloom about traffic jams in London and queues everywhere to get to the Olympic Park, we set out from Yorkshire with an expectation of stoic patience being required to get to our seats in time for the Athletics at 10 am.
The reality was quite different and at every stage of the journey our expectations were exceeded due to the careful planning and effective communications of the organisers. The journey through London on the Friday afternoon took an hour less than usual with light traffic and the use of the Olympic Lanes which were all open to normal traffic during off-peak hours.
On Saturday morning we caught an over-ground train from Clapham Junction directly into Stratford Park. It was clean and modern with air conditioning, there were plenty of seats and the passengers were lifted by the Olympic Spirit and strangers were actually talking enthusiastically to each other, a very unusual experience when travelling in London.
On arrival at Stratford we walked leisurely through Westfield, the largest shopping centre in Europe which took us right to the entrance to the Park where we expected lengthy security delays. The reality was again quite different; we got through in less than 5 minutes and had time to observe the army and security personnel working cheerfully together. Once through security, we got our first
clear view of the magnificent Stadium designed and delivered on time and within Budget. The creative thought and meticulous detail put into the design was inspiring and included aspects which were invisible but of huge impact. For example the design and construction were specified to maximise the reverberation of the sound of 70,000 spectators cheering madly. Many athletes commented on how the support they received from the noisy crowd spurred them on to even greater heights. I wonder how many Team GB medals this design detail contributed towards.
The Olympic Park itself was manned by countless volunteers in their distinctive uniforms who set the tone for informality and fun. Their enthusiasm was infectious. They had been trained with the support of MacDonald’s to go the extra mile, to engage with the crowd, high-fiving with the children and chatting to the ticket holders as they directed everyone to their seats, water stations, the food village and so on. Their behaviour helped create a relaxed and informal atmosphere in the Stadium which was maintained during the Athletics and repeated in the afternoon when we watched the Diving.
When we set off to leave the Park in the late afternoon, the return journey was equally enjoyable with enthusiastic crowds mingling happily and the police, security and volunteers maintaining their informality and sense of fun at the end of a long day and a longer week for them.
The experience of being part of the Games and part of the wider Team GB was fantastic, made all the more so by the many, many details being right and the preparedness of the organisers and the teams on the ground being prepared to go the extra mile to play their part in making the Games such a success.
As business leaders we can draw inspiration from the power a clear and compelling vision, effectively and decisively deployed can unleash in people from all walks of life. The Olympic spirit has lain dormant for many years and to see it unleashed to such great effect was indeed a memorable sight. It is a reminder to us all that it is possible to tap such a spirit in our own organisations and to aim to do so requires brave leaders with a clear and compelling vision and a well-developed strategy executed with passion and determination.
As a case study in leadership in action, the London Olympic Games 2012 have been a Masterclass and have given all of us who were lucky enough to be present an experience which we will remember with pride and affection for the rest of our lives. Put simply, we delivered and as a nation and we can and must do it again to deal effectively with the many economic, financial and social challenges we still face.
Tim Vernon, chairman,sensei September 2012