Achievement Lessons from Roger Bannister

It was with real sadness that I read of the passing of Roger Bannister – a man that created a new paradigm for sporting achievement. He was a true iconoclast, who changed what we see as possible, and ignored his doubters. At the time of his four minute mile attempt, The Daily Telegraph called it “sport’s greatest goal.” But they also said it was “as elusive and seemingly unattainable as Everest”.

I absolutely love it when someone proves all the doubters wrong. “Fast trains will suffocate us all… I think there is a world market for five computers… go that way and you’ll sail off the edge of the word.” This was Roger, a man who trained relentlessly and set his target on something that had never been done before. To tune out doubt is hard. I know from our work with Olympians that it’s the one thing you cannot have present in a Gold medal final. More interestingly, it was failure that drove him to achieve his four minute mile.

An inspiration and a warning around achievement

I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve said to people: “don’t expect them to run a four minute mile.” I rarely mean it literally. But I do use it to remind high achievers not to overlay their own abilities onto those they work with. Imagine how daunting it would be to stand next to Roger on the starting line. Now imagine how it feels in business if your peer or leader is constantly outstripping you, but shouting over their shoulder ‘keep up’.

We’ve lost a real treasure, a part of the 20th century that made us proud. But his legacy is huge – it tells us not to listen to the negative voices. It also reminds  us to be careful not to drag others into a race they cannot compete in.

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