The Tokyo Olympics is in full swing, and I am loving every second of it. Of course, the big news of this year’s games has been U.S. gymnast Simone Biles. Most people expected her to make history in Tokyo by standing on top of the podium six times, sporting all six women’s artistic gymnastics gold medals. Instead, she may not compete at all. As of the time I am writing this, she has pulled out of the team, all-around, individual vault, and individual bars competitions. It is unknown whether she will compete at the beam and floor finals.
Good leadership is powerful. So is poor leadership.
If you follow gymnastics, you know USA Gymnastics has been under fire for the last several years. The mental and physical health of elite gymnasts has received a lot of attention as a result. Gymnast Katelyn Ohashi has been vocal about the issues facing elite gymnasts. Following a mental breakdown, Ohashi entered collegiate gymnastics with UCLA’s premier program.
That same year, the program hired a new coach, Valorie Kondos. The UCLA athletic program gave Coach Val no direction other than to win. “In my mind, a coach was tough talking, relentless, snarky at times, no grey area, black and white. Mean, basically. So I learned to say things like ‘Winners make adjustments; losers make excuses,’” Kondos said.
Leaders, whether in the athletic world or the corporate world, have pressure to win.
The pressure on leadership to win at all costs leads to burnout, mental health issues, physical health problems, and relationship problems. But perhaps the most significant fallout of the “win at all costs” leadership mindset is its effect on employees.
“I don’t want to be great again,” Ohashi said to her coach. In the book “Multipliers,” author Liz Wisemen researched the “hard” leadership style. Under this type of leadership, great employees began to get complacent and become mediocre employees…if they stuck around. It’s unfortunate because many of these leaders, like Coach Val, have the capacity to become great leaders who have a positive effect on those they lead.
But pressure to win coupled with a mistaken view of leadership has disastrous effects on employee psyche, which translates to a decrease in the bottom line. For UCLA gymnastics, the year Coach Val started, the team went from second in the nation to dead last.
Coach Val was ready to resign…until she came across Coach John Wooden’s definition of success:
“Success is peace of mind in knowing you’ve done your best.”
In other words, success is not about winning; success is about the inner peace of a leader who knows they have done their very best. This quote changed Coach Val’s life. She realized the bottom line of the UCLA gymnastics program was not to win; instead, the bottom line was to develop the whole person of the gymnasts in the program—their athletic ability, physical health, spiritual health, and mental health.
Now back to the Tokyo Olympics and Simone Biles.
When Simone pulled out of competition, she said she had to put her mental health first. Simone Biles, the GOAT, the USA’s hope to bring home another women’s artistic gymnastics team gold was not going to compete. The perceived bottom line—winning gold—would likely not be realized. And it wasn’t.
Simone knew this; her coach knew this. And yet, Simone and her coach chose Simone’s health and safety over gold. Why? Because great leaders know people are the real bottom line.