August 16, 2021

No gymnast has been able to surpass the achievements of Simone Biles, whose routines of astounding difficulty have made her one of the most dominant athletes in the world. At the moment, she is the most decorated U.S. Olympic gymnast with a total of 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. And the first woman in history who has ever performed a Yurchenko double pike.

So, when the star withdrew from the women’s gymnastics team finals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to focus on her mental health, the world was in shock. But what Biles has demonstrated is a winning trait of leadership: the ability to be self-aware enough to take a step back and let others step up to the plate, while being vulnerable at the same time. It turns out that leaders can learn a thing or two from the world’s most celebrated gymnast. Here are six leadership lessons from the G.O.A.T.

Slow down

Never be reactive in any situation. A delayed response is better than a miscalculated one. During a team press conference, Biles said that it would be foolish if she didn’t listen to her brain and body as it could have resulted in a serious injury. Instead of demanding faster and better results, allow time for contemplation and self-reflection. Rapid growth can sometimes jeopardise the business and create all sorts of issues from cash flow to operations. A study by Harvard Business Review revealed that companies that opted to charge ahead without evaluating their business strategy ended up with lower operating profits than those that “paused at key moments to make sure they were on the right track.”

Ditch that tunnel vision

Leaders need to always think long-term and see the bigger picture when it comes to decision-making. Biles knew that by staying in the competition, she was risking a medal for her team and the right thing was to step aside. Many others in her position would feel pressured to meet expectations, but Biles didn’t allow her ego to get in the way or compromise herself for an Olympic medal. While it’s important to have a goal, it shouldn’t come at the cost of losing yourself in the process. 

Trust your team

When Biles exited the team gymnastics finals, she was confident that the girls would “do an absolutely great job” and didn’t want her “screwups” to affect their performance, because they “worked way too hard for that.” In fact, she encouraged her team, telling them that without her, they would be just fine. That’s why good leaders do. They relinquish control and trust their team by empowering them to take on responsibilities. Even if you are the boss, you don’t have to do everything alone.

Be adaptable and flexible

Great leaders know how and when to be flexible. Sometimes in certain situations, you have to play it by ear. Success is not linear and life doesn’t unfold the way you want it to be due to external factors beyond your control. What you can change is your mindset. Although Biles withdrew from the team finals and the individual all-around competition, she eventually competed in the balance beam. Her decision surprised many, but she stuck to her guns and walked away with a bronze medal.

Don’t be afraid to admit to your limitations

Throughout her illustrious sports career, Biles has broken numerous records and set the bar so high that she is in a league of her own. Despite her tremendous success, Biles isn’t consumed by pride or hubris. She displayed extraordinary courage when she removed herself from the Olympics competition and wasn’t fazed at being called a “quitter.” She even openly admitted to struggling with the “twisties,” a mind and body disconnect that could throw gymnasts off balance in the air. Showing vulnerability is not a weakness, but a strength that needs to be embraced and celebrated.

Prioritise mental well-being

As the pandemic continues, employees are still feeling anxiety and stress due to a lack of workplace support. In a survey conducted by Hibob last year, 49 per cent said their mental health had a major effect on productivity. Overall findings concluded that there had been a 22 per cent decline in mental health for employees and a 12 per cent decline for managers.

Biles’ candidness about her mental health struggles has inspired many others to reconsider what self-care means. When leaders acknowledge the importance of taking care of themselves as well as their employees, they allow a culture of compassion to thrive. Offer mental health support and resources to anyone going through a difficult time. Or encourage them to speak up and ask for what they need to improve their well-being.