The Center for Leadership, Innovation, and Change (CLIC), in partnership with Smith School Associate Dean Joyce Russell, co-sponsored a panel, “Business Athletes” for the Smith School Business Summit in Baltimore on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Dean Russell led the panel discussion featuring Cathy Reese, UMD Women’s Lacrosse Head Coach, Carolyn Covey Morris, founder and CEO of QMobius, and Donna Meachum Blackman, Senior VP of Finance for BET Networks. The panelists drew parallels between the traits of exemplar sports athletes and those needed by business leaders and their teams for success in the business world.
Coach Reese kicked off the discussion by naming six traits that she believes make the women she coaches successful teammates: 1) goal-driven and committed to following through with their team, 2) competitive in all aspects, 3) passionate about their teams and what they do, 4) supportive as team members, 5) confident in taking risks, and 6) resilience to failure.
Blackman related these traits back to leadership by stressing the importance of defining “success” and acknowledging that, like athletes, business leaders need to “practice” their leadership to continue to their growth and development. Extending that point, Covey Morris noted that it is important for business leaders to understand what “position” they want to play on a business team so they can develop their skillset to meet the demands of that position in a stellar way.
All panelists spoke about how to deal with setbacks. Setbacks are just one expected aspect in the journey toward what leaders ultimately want to accomplish and successful teams plan for adversity. Coach Reese used the example of how she encourages lacrosse players to be supportive of their teammates, knowing that injury on the field is common. Injured players who reach out for support during their recovery struggle, stay connected to teammates even when they can’t play, and jump right back in to improve in new ways after an injury are the most successful at dealing with this kind of setback.
In the course of discussing business athletes, the panelists also spoke about the importance of coaches, mentors and sponsors in helping individuals become effective business athletes. Covey Morris noted that gravitating towards bosses who provide coaching can be a useful strategy. Retaining an executive coach and taking relevant courses can also help development processes. Coach Reese said setting small goals along the way and celebrating little accomplishments, particularly with the help of a coach, can build skills and confidence. Blackman mentioned seeking sponsors who can provide insights into the organization and provide feedback. Summing up, Covey Morris argued that you can expect positive things to happen to you, but in the end you need to be proactive in making things happen. As in sports, business athlete needs to positon themselves and be ready for the next opportunity.