Today, we welcome guest blogger Carlos Salum, leadership performance strategist and professional tennis coach. Salum, founder of Salum International Resources, has helped world-class tennis players such as Gabriela Sabatini and Sergi Bruguera win Grand Slam titles. His work with professional athletes as well as with senior corporate leaders enables them to achieve breakthrough results. In today’s post, he details the story of Gabriela Sabatini’s U.S. Open Championship win and her mental stumbling blocks along the way. He also invites you to apply some of same principles to your life as Sabatini did so you, too, can achieve greatness - whether it's on the court, in the gym or in the workplace.
On a beautiful, sunny afternoon on September 8, 1990, Gabriela Sabatini won the U.S. Open Tennis Championships in New York, fulfilling her lifetime dream before an audience of millions. From the players’ box, I watched her crush the match point and leap towards the sky pumping her clenched fist. She had beaten Steffi Graf, her nemesis and the best player in the world. However, just five months before, Gabriela had told me she wanted to quit tennis for good, despite her #3 world-ranking. She was disheartened by a series of bad losses and felt no joy whatsoever.
At her father’s request, Dr. Jim Loehr, the world’s leading sport psychologist, and I focused on untangling Gabriela’s emotional world. Her recovery involved recognizing how her thinking influenced how she felt and how she acted. To break negative thought patterns, she started acting how she felt at her best, when she enjoyed being challenged. Gradually, positive feelings poured out, transforming Gabriela from a joyless routine-addict into an engaged, resilient and resourceful thinker in the face of adversity. Gabriela realized that when we embrace who we want to be in the future, it’s helpful to start thinking, feeling and acting like that “future self” today, bit-by-bit, step-by-step. Her evident turnaround revitalized her stellar career and inspired thousands of people, especially young girls, to follow their dreams. Soon after retiring, she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
How Leading Ourselves Evolves into Leading Others
I believe Gabriela’s breakthrough points to the essence of leadership: we first must lead ourselves before we can lead others. Granted, tennis is not the whole of life, but, by requiring that one aligns their energy with their purpose to achieve excellence in performance, it ushers them to become whole and then radiates their energy outwards to others.
Corporate Leaders Must Exhibit a Sense of Excellence
When I started advising corporate leaders, I noticed that the most influential ones easily related to peak performance concepts, since their mission is to instill energy and purpose in people to drive the organization towards an engaging, common vision. Visionary leaders already are at the mountaintop and must now help others understand how to change and act on their new reality. Their sense of excellence pulls everyone to perform at a much higher level, way above of what they consider their 100%. Consider the makers of Giro biking helmets: “We will be to the biking industry what Nike is to shoes.” Without such burning desire, followers will likely sabotage development plans to maintain their “average” and perform at a set level. According to the Towers Perrin Global Workforce Study, only 1 out of 5 workers today is giving full effort on the job and 4 out of 10 workers are disenchanted or disengaged. Based on myriad examples, despotic, incompetent and uninspiring leaders are to blame. Engagement might increase if more leaders model excellence through action, inspiring powerful common visions, challenging assumptions, seeking new opportunities, enabling collaboration and celebrating results with fair rewards. Is this idealistic? Of course… and so was Gabriela Sabatini’s choice, which was mysteriously in harmony with Gandhi’s suggestion to become the change we want to see in the world.
I suggest we ask ourselves: How will the world be different as a result of how I lead myself? Who could feel inspired by my behavior? And most importantly today: How do we need to be to be better together?