by Marilyn King

It Takes a Global Olympic Village

I am proud to be an Olympian. I represented the USA in Munich in 1972 and Montreal in 1976, then placed second in the Olympic trials (Pentathlon) for Moscow in 1980. A life-altering experience in training for my third Olympic team prompted me to study what Olympians and all high achievers have in common.

During my first Olympic experience, being immersed in what was an unparalleled global diversity changed my view of the world. While the events in the outside world had enormous impact on the Munich games, including the Black September attack on the Israeli team, my memories of being inside the Olympic Village among athletes from every country were truly transformational.

If I were granted one wish to pass along to the next generation, it would be that people everywhere could experience what it is like to live in a Global Olympic Village.

I witnessed athletes representing countries who were at war with one another sit at the breakfast table together and try to translate “peanut butter” into another language. I saw others whose religious beliefs were at odds laughing and dancing together in the discotheque. Everyone was getting along! How could this be? How could these highly-successful, highly-competitive people find a way to live in peace with one another?

Returning home with much to process, I came to believe that we Olympians in this Global Olympic Village had two characteristics that allowed us to live and compete together in peace and harmony during the games.

First, there was a mutual respect that superseded all our differences. I felt respect from and for everyone I encountered. Respect was like the air we breathed — it was everywhere. We understood that we shared important key qualities that made it possible to be among the best in the world – a privilege that could only be earned.

Second, there was a very high degree of child-like curiosity and a desire to get to know one another. For  example, everyone I met on the athletes’ bus and in the dining hall seemed curious to know where I was from, what my event was, what the journey was like for me to become an Olympian and what did it mean for me to be there. It was exciting and fun to learn about people from around the world who were both different and the same as me.

I believe we can all learn from the respect and curiosity which are part of the experience of all Olympians, past and present. I call this The Olympian Way.

Is your workplace environment like a Global Olympic Village? What if those from diverse backgrounds felt that their experiences, their skills and their perspectives were respected? What if in meetings and in the hallways people felt that others were curious to know how they came to be there and what their aspirations are for themselves and the organization?

Research tells us that people underperform and do not bring their best selves to work and often leave when they feel unseen or disrespected. If you were a judge, what marks would you give your organization?

Every day, each and every one of us has the opportunity to express respect and curiosity for all those we encounter. We don’t have to be the leader to see the transformation that happens when we treat everyone on the team like an Olympian. Respect and curiosity –The Olympian Way.

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