What All Olympians Have In Common, And What Every Medical Practice Can Learn From Them

Besides discipline, what would you say is the one thing that all athletes have in common? All Olympic athletes have a coach.

I find this interesting.

Here we have the most elite athletes in the world. Most of them have trained for most of their lives, others are repeat Olympians, and others are repeat medal winners. Yet they still have coaches.

Why would they need coaches? Surely they know what needs to be done to train right, eat right, rest right and all the other things that go along with being an Olympic athlete.

Take Michael Phelps, for example. With so many medals around his neck even before going into the London Olympic games, doesn’t he know how to be a winner?

If you haven’t caught on, I’m being a bit facetious.  Of course coaches are important. They help athletes in the development of their technical skills.

But what I find fascinating that even at the highest level, individuals need coaches.

In the business world, including the medical business world, we don’t share this same notion. More often than not, we rely on ourselves to win. Many scoff at the need to hire a consultant because it is a too expensive (in the short term), knowing very well that in the long run, the likelihood for a return on investment is huge for example

But if we look at athletes, we see something different. Despite their skill set, talent and knowledge, they always rely on a coach to help them improve no matter the cost or the sacrifice.

Think about it, even Michael Jordan had Phil Jackson.

Should We Have Coaches Too?

Seems to me that there is a good argument to be made that ALL of us need to have coaches. Whether that is hiring a consultant to go over billing with your docs, to hiring a competent practice administrator to humbling yourself to a colleague and asking her to give you feedback on how you handled that complicated patient.

If athletes benefit from it, why wouldn’t business leaders?

While you ponder this, take at look at this clip from the movie Any Given Sunday where Al Pacino’s character does a little motivating to get his team back on track. FYI, there is some foul language.


  1. Well said Brandon. I hope enough medical practice owners can see the value of finding fresh lens to get them to that next level. Be it through organic growth or outside consulting, something has to energize the spirit to WANT to be a champion.


  2. I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, so many of the people at the top of the food chain (doctors, attorneys, etc.), either presume expertise in everything or fear showing that they don’t have it.

    And UHC posts another multi-billion dollar quarter.


  3. When I coach my health care clients (or those in qny other line of business for that matter) I recommend the book Tribal Leadership, by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright. Fischer-Wright is a physician by the way. This book describes a growth path for both individuals and organizations, each characterized by readily identifiable language and a progressively more positive outlook and level of performance: Stage 1 – “Life Sucks”; Stage 2 – “My Life Sucks”; Stage 3 – “I’m Great, and You’re Not” (The authors point to physicians, lawyers, and academicians as prototype of this stage although many of the silos we see in hospitals are really stage 3 groups of people); Stage 4 – “We’re Great, and They’re Not”. Here is where we see real teamwork and collaboration firmly take hold. And finally Stage 5 – “Life is Great” the stage of real innovation and creativity. I use this model in my executive coaching in health care organizations and with physicians, and it is a real eye opener for clients and a useful pathway for moving people out of Stages 2 and 3, into Stage 4 or 5. And here are two frightening statistics from the authors: based on 10 years of research: 24% of the American workplace is Stage 2 and 49% is Stage 3. No wonder it is so hard to change our organizations, yet it is an imperative if we are to make needed systemic changes in the health care system.
    Here is the dirty little secret of leadership and employee development – it happens one person at a time. So leaders and managers must know their people, all their direct reports, and determine what stage each person is. From there, as you will see when you read Tribal Leadership, the action you take is dependent on the stage as well as the skill set the person has.

    For a Stage 2 person who you want to get out of the “my life sucks” world where passive-aggressive behavior is common place, conspiracy theories abound, and anything from management is met with abject suspicion, you begin using Stage 3 (You are great) language to help the person recognize they do have talents to offer and that they do some things well (i.e., you are great at this and this), and you begin expanding their skill set and build their “greatness” if you will. Pretty soon the employee is seeing the world a lot differently.

    Stage 3 is a time of great personal and professional development and a necessary step (you cannot skip a stage, although most of us are never in Stage 1 thank goodness). That’s the upside. The downside is that the “greatness” can and often does lead to the inflated ego, the “my way or the highway” attitude. The basic strategy here is the same, once stable in Stage 3 begin looking for ways to converse and act with the employee in a Stage 4 manner – collaborative, team based, etc. Set backs will include the Stage 3 ego stealing the credit of a team effort, for example. But the tribal leader persists. Ultimately the late Stage 3 person will become enormously frustrated because they cannot achieve anymore than they are doing. After all they are just one person and therefore not scalable per se. It is in this funk that the epiphany occurs and the Stage 3 person realizes that others are accomplishing great things…by working together in teams where mutual respect, integrity, and honoring of one another abounds.

    And when the Stage 3 person makes the commitment to get some of that, the epiphany has occurred and you can move this person into relationships with other people that are scalable where they can achieve far more together than any one of them could alone. The shift from Stage 3 to Stage 4 is noticeable in the change from language dominated by the singular (I, me, etc.) to the plural (us, we, the team, etc.).

    It happens one person at a time, but it can happen and it can transform an organization’s culture. Most hospitals (I am a former hospital administrator) are predominately Stage 3 organizations, sequestered into silos of “greatness.” But as Margaret Mead said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” And also remember Dave Logan’s Corollary (Dave is the lead author of Tribal Leadership): Never doubt that a small group of thoughtless, uncommitted people can prevent change from happening. Indeed, they do so every day.” Rich Maxwell (Rich@MaxwellCoaching.com)