Resilience and other lessons social impact leaders can learn from Olympians

As we watched the Olympics and Paralympics, we saw athletes from all parts of the world pursue their goals without letting anything or anyone get in the way.  Their commitment and mindset teach us essential lessons for how we, as corporate citizenship professionals, must approach our work every day.


Here are four lessons that inspire me and hopefully will empower you:

  1. Resilience: It is crucial to stay the course and persevere as we face adversity and challenges in driving our change agendas. I get it, it’s not always easy to build social impact into your brand, get the funding you desire, or have your partnerships deliver exactly the way you like.  Olympians would say press on, get up from the fall, engage the right teammates, and find your moxie to relentlessly pursue your goals. 
  1. Commit to Training: Our work is not easy and the learning curve can be steep.  As social impact leaders, we have to commit to ongoing training to be our best.  We must practice being better listeners, students, and risk takers.  This commitment to focused, intentional learning is imperative as our work and societal issues get more complicated.
  1. Create Unity: Let’s celebrate how North and South Koreans walked together at the opening ceremonies and athletes from 93 countries shared an Olympic Village while many face conflict and war in their homelands. We all must continue to find common ground for how we can tackle critical social issues, work even more collaboratively with our partners, and invest in ideas that unite and mobilize employees, consumers, and other stakeholders across the globe. It’s also essential for us to invite unexpected players to join us on our journeys.
  1. Embrace Great Coaches: Not one Olympian arrived at the Games without the help of great coaches. Mikaela Shiffrin had her mom by her side every step of the way. We all need people to support us, help us troubleshoot, listen to us vent, and, push us to persevere, train, and inspire unity.  Social impact work is intense, exciting and hard; it is not possible to go it alone. 

These athlete-inspired insights keep my energy high and my mind laser-focused as I coach and collaborate with leaders every day.  Let’s each wake up with this Olympian mindset and drive as we seek to improve lives around the world.  Join me at the Boston College International Corporate Citizenship Conference in Los Angeles this April to learn more from our peers and other experts about how these traits and behaviors lead to results.  


Nikki Korn is the Principal and Chief Strategy Officer of Cause Consulting, a social impact strategy and communications firm dedicated to simultaneously “strengthening business and impacting society.”