How to lead like Usain Bolt

In March 2012, the Independent newspaper published an analysis of records from every international 100m track event since 1888. This review, carried out by Sheffield Hallam university, said that Usain Bolt has significantly increased the average time of the world’s top 100m sprinters since his professional debut in 2008. “What’s happened is that he’s come on the block and the peer competition is such that everyone has improved,” said Sheffield Hallam professor Steve Haake. “It is a little jump in performance when he appeared in that year. If we look at the top 25 sprinters and take Usain Bolt out of that list, so that you just analyse the other 24, you still get this step change.”

In 1948 the worlds top 25 sprinters took an average of 10.42 seconds to complete a 100m race. This average progressively improves as years go on and in 2007 the top 25 took an average 10.01 seconds in the same race. Between these gap of nearly 60 years there is an average decrease in time of 0.167% every year.

Then Usain Bolt arrives.

Since he started competing in 2008, the average decrease in time by the top 25 becomes 0.225% per year. Like Steve Haake says, even without Bolt’s time included, we still see the average dramatically change from the remaining top 24 sprinters. In other words, Usain Bolt is making every other professional sprinter run faster.

This is a fascinating effect. How can one person have such a dramatic effect on his entire sporting field in such a small space of time? The truth is, it’s the same for us as leaders.

As leader, people will look to you to set the expectations. If you regularly arrive to meetings late, the chances are your team will begin to as well. If your Bible studies / presentations are poorly planned and incoherent, your team’s will be too. If you show you are regularly reflecting on your work in order to improve, so will your team.

As leader, you set the pace of your team.

If you don’t believe it, try this for an instant experiment. Be intentional about how you enter a room of people. If you enter quietly, with your head down, slightly mumbling and avoiding eye contact, watch as your team’s morale immediately starts to decline, their productivity in the next 20minutes will also slump. But if you enter confidently, smiling but ready for action, notice how your team begin to sit up straight, and productivity increases.

As the leader you set the pace of your team. What ethos do you want your team to have. Truth is, it probably needs to come from you first. Be a Usain Bolt, and improve the performance of your team by setting the pace.

Joel Preston

Joel Preston

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Joel is the Director of Evangelism & Mission for British Youth for Christ. He had previously been involved in church-based youthwork for over 10 years and before that spent 4 years at a local Youth for Christ centre.

He specialises in delivering leadership and people management training in a ministry context and has taught for various organisations across the country, including SoulNet, Innovista, SWYM and Youthwork the Conference.
Joel Preston

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