6 Leadership Lessons from Retiring Tennis Star Serena Williams
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by | Aug 26, 2022 | Leader's Digest

Carew is headquartered in Cincinnati, OH, and last weekend our city hosted the Western & Southern Open, or Cincinnati Masters. On Tuesday night of the tournament, Serena Williams fell to opponent Emma Raducanu on a sold-out center court. Nearly 12,000 fans came to see the tennis icon in presumably one of her last competitions.

Earlier this month, Serena announced she is evolving (her words) away from tennis. She wrote, “It’s the hardest thing that I could ever imagine.”

Williams’ farewell to tennis has hit the news hard, and, not unexpectedly, business executives were quick to discuss the impact of her legendary career and what leaders can learn from it. An article for Forbes gave six leadership lessons we can learn from Williams:

  1. Be Resilient. The first lesson we can learn from Williams is resiliency. “Serena was incredibly resilient in her career, coming back from injuries and setbacks, and that’s an important lesson in business as well, to be resilient when deals and projects don’t necessarily work out your way,” said Andrew Rosen, President of financial planning firm Diversified.
  2. Teams Matter. Reaching Williams’ caliber of success cannot be done alone. She has a team of experts, assistants, coaches, family, and so on to support her and help her succeed. A sales leader is surrounded by people who lend to their success as well: their team members, other colleagues, people in their network, friends, and family. The quality of these relationships/teams matters.
  3. Have a Winner’s Mindset. When Serena was little, she was not very good at tennis. In her retirement letter, she recalls feeling sad when she didn’t get the same opportunities as her older sister. She said she got mad when people would refer to her as just the little sister. It made her work harder, fight stronger, and she eventually turned an early life in Venus’ shadow into the reason for her success. Studying other high performers, learning from their mistakes and achievements, and turning a negative into a positive are qualities of a winning mindset, and sales leaders can take note.
  4. Set Your Own Course. “Dealing with strong personalities her entire life, from her father, Richard, to her long-term coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena always made it clear that the ultimate decisions would be hers. This is a remarkably important lesson for any leader,” said Aron Solomon, Head of Strategy and Chief Legal Analyst at Esquire Digital. Leaders deal with many strong personalities and opinions as well. It is a sign of a healthy culture when a leader encourages others to share their perspectives and express their beliefs—including differences of opinion. But in the end, managers and leaders need to make the decisions, set the course, and determine the path to success.
  5. Always Be Planning Your Next Move. Williams has a clothing line, is active in philanthropy efforts, and has her venture capital and private equity firm, Serena Ventures, where a lot of her effort has slowly been shifting lately. Actively working on other interests and passions has given her a jump start on her next stage of life. Serena is more than just tennis, just as leaders are more than their current role/job. Victoria Pelletier, Managing Director at Accenture, wrote, “You need to build a strong brand that is based upon not just the subject matter expertise that you have developed and are paid for, but all of the unique elements that make up CEO You…”.
  6. Learn How to Transition. As an athlete practices to get better and advance their skills every day, so should leaders. Many leaders have the potential to grow into new capacities, even within their existing roles. However, change and transition can be met with resistance and reluctance. In her farewell article, Williams wrote, “There is no happiness in this topic for me.” But she knows it is the right decision for her family, so she is making the transition. And she will likely conquer life after tennis just as successfully.

All the best to Serena in New York and her life beyond tennis!

To read the full Forbes article, click here.

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