Jimmy Mellado: What Leadership and the Decathlon Have in Common

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been inspired by sports and dreamed of one day participating in competitions. From practicing the high jump at age 9 on a playground in Nicaragua by jumping over a tree branch to winning my group in the decathlon high jump competition at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, that 16-year journey helped form so many qualities that are intrinsic to how I approach any challenge in life.

Jimmy Mellado: What Leadership and the Decathlon Have in Common

I have constantly found that my athletic experience informs my leadership. Winning, losing, discipline, goals, character, strategy, focus, disappointment, set-backs, victories, teamwork, injuries, resource allocation, time-management, energy management—they’re all a part of leading an organization.

More specifically, my chosen event of the decathlon provided invaluable training for my role as a general manager. The decathlon is a combination of ten events spread over a two-day period. As such, you can’t get too down on yourself when you have a bad performance in one event, because the next one is coming right up.

You don’t want to take that negativity with you or you could replicate the bad performance. You have to learn from your mistake and move on to the next event with a positive outlook and confidence that you’ll do your best. There is no time for unnecessary pouting or feeling sorry for yourself!

Jimmy Mellado: What Leadership and the Decathlon Have in Common

Organizational leadership is very similar. You may have a loss one day, but you need to bounce back quickly to get out of that rut. On the other hand, you also can’t celebrate a big victory too long or you risk losing focus for the next challenge. You have to maintain an even keel when you go through the highs and lows and remember that you are probably not as good as your victories indicate nor as bad as your losses reflect either.

Also, the very nature of the decathlon is that you have to be great at being a generalist across many events. The best decathletes in the world are usually at the low end of world class for the individual events, but it’s extremely rare for a decathlete to compete against an event specialist. The CEO position is very much like that.

I’m not an expert in finance, accounting, technology, human resources, organizational development, or land and building development. But, I do need to have a level competence in each of those areas and excel in some so I can develop a point of view about how it all works together to achieve the greatest result.

Jimmy Mellado: What Leadership and the Decathlon Have in Common

Another huge lesson from decathlon training has been learning how to compete when you are tired or when circumstance are not ideal, but top performance is still required. By the tenth event you are exhausted physically and emotionally. But despite that… you still have to perform.

In the same way, leadership demands and challenges don’t always come your way when you want them to or when you are optimally prepared for them. You have to learn how to perform when hard circumstances come your way, whenever they come. Perseverance, unbridled optimism and refusing to see yourself as a victim are critical to success in athletics at a world class level. It’s no different in leadership!

9 Comments |Add a comment

  1. MASHALE ISSA January 31, 2024

    Hello, am Mashale issa from Uganda born of pallisa district kamuge sub county kalapata village am here looking for a support in my studies at compus so that I complete the compus thanks for the update

    1. Christina February 1, 2024

      Hello Mashale Issa! Please email us at [email protected] to see if we are able to help you. Thank you!

  2. MASHALE ISSA January 31, 2024

    It’s a good association

  3. John L. Berger Jr. October 22, 2022

    I really hope this works. So far, I have not been able to talk to anyone in the administration about giving. Every time I was given a chance to give in the past, it was very easy to find the Birthday gift section on the website. So far, that has gone well. This year, I have received emails about Christmas giving expiring on October 31. When I go to the giving section, it doesn’t have a Christmas giving option. It says, “thank you for giving a birthday gift to your sponsored child.” I had to call Compassion to make Christmas gifts to my sponsored children and their families. Can we update the website and make this process easier to work with?

    1. Amy October 24, 2022

      Hello, John! Thank you for blessing your children and their families with a Christmas gift! They will be delighted to know you are thinking of them! I am so sorry to hear about the struggles you had in speaking with someone as well as the difficulties in giving to the Christmas Fund online. Because Christmas Gifts are given through the Christmas Fund, the place to give a Christmas Gift is through the Funds section on our website rather than through the Child Gifts section. We greatly value your feedback to make this option clearer on the web site, and I have passed it along to the appropriate team within Compassion. We are deeply grateful for your support, and if you have further concerns or questions please send us an email at [email protected].

  4. Michel May 28, 2022

    Greetings! I am Michel an educator of middle & elementary school science. I am amazed how your leadership article capture what I am feeling and going through right now. As I think on the families in Texas and how so many of the children looks like my students my hear is filled with sorrow and the accomplishments my students has made and how far they still have to go on the reservation… Thanks for that inspiring piece on leadership😊.

  5. Pastor Elias stephano January 20, 2022

    I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ I hope you are doing well.

    Am pastor Elias stephano from Tanzania am the head pastor of evening light church of God in magu mwanza Tanzania am very interested in compassion I need to Host this compassion in my church because we have more than 40 children’s orphanage that have no help.

    I hope my request will be considered brother Jimmy.

    Yours pastor Elias stephano from Tanzania.

    1. Grace January 21, 2022

      Hello Pastor Elias! We appreciate all the work you are doing to help people in Tanzania. We are honored that you want to partner with Compassion! Can you please send us an email at [email protected] so that we can discuss this further? Thank you!

  6. Nicholas Kalyebara August 30, 2016

    Thank you for sharing your story and lessons learnt from the decathlon. I love athletics and like to draw leadership lessons and inspiration from them to. Blessings on your ministry and leadership.

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