Saturday, August 4, 2012

Five Leadership Lessons from Gabby Douglas

Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality – Warren G. Bennis

One of the emerging stars of the 2012 London Olympic Games is Gabby Douglas. If you missed her performances with her teammates, the Fab Five, you missed quite a show. Douglas won the gold medal in the all-around contest and in the process gave NBC some of its highest ratings.

The poise of Douglas during the competition and in her interviews has revealed an impressive level of maturity beyond the 16-years of her youth. That she will emerge as a role model for young girls and aspiring gymnasts is a given. But her observations and reflections after winning gold are lessons not just for her generation but also for leaders in the boardroom. Here are five leadership lessons from Gabby Douglas and why they matter.

Dream big. In a first-person column for ESPN, Douglas said, “When my mom first took me to [Lin] Chow’s gym two years ago, she told him I wanted to be an Olympic champion someday. He told her he would do his best. He jokes now that he wasn’t so sure he could do it.”

Douglas’ dream was to be an Olympic champion. Through dedication and hard work she made her dream come true. In leadership, the difference between those who dream and those who achieve is found in the work ethic. Gabby had the right work ethic; all successful leaders do. What is your big dream?

Work through the pain. Growth and accomplishment don’t come without setbacks, sacrifice, and pain. Gabby writes, “When I first got here to London, I was in some pain from a tweaked muscle. I was feeling a little down. But Chow reminded me that everyone has pain.” Successful leaders also know pain but understand that it’s part of the growth process.

Gabby had to work through the pain to get to the gold. It’s what successful athletes and leaders do. The old adage, “No pain, no gain,” is a reminder to persevere and reap the rewards. Don’t give up.

Be teachable. World class athletes such as Gabby Douglas would not compete at Olympic levels without the guidance and tutelage of a superior coach.  And without being teachable, Gabby would not have won gold. Gabby writes, “He (Chow) pushed me so hard, and some days I would wonder, ‘Why do I have to do this?’ In the end, though, he believed in me and all the hard work really did pay off. He and his wife Li have shaped me into a better gymnast than I ever thought I could be.”

Whether you are a seasoned athlete or CEO, each level of competition and success is characterized by a willingness to learn. Raw talent has its limits, but with an open mind and teachable attitude there are no limits to the accomplishments you can achieve. Never stop learning.

Be a team player. In her essay Gabby said, “Tonight I didn’t think about avoiding mistakes-that’s what gets you into trouble. Instead, I just thought about going out there and representing Team USA, my coaches, my family and myself as I best I could. I just wanted to enjoy the moment.” Did you notice her priorities? It was team, coaches, family, and finally, self.

It’s when you think and act like a team member that you realize your full potential. Individual accomplishment is achieved in harmony with the team not with your defection from it. Give your all to your team. 
Give credit where credit is due. In her first tweet after winning gold, Gabby said, “Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me.” Successful Olympians and leaders by nature are thankful people. In the aftermath and celebration of winning gold, Gabby had the presence of mind and wherewithal to give credit where she felt it belonged. 

How about you? As a leader, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and celebrations of the moment and forget to thank those around you. Who are you thankful for and when was the last time you expressed it?

It takes discipline to keep the essentials of leadership front and center. Thanks to 16-year old Gabby Douglas, we’ve now been reminded why it’s important.

© 2012 Doug Dickerson

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