One of the things that has been overlooked is Allyson Felix’s phenomenal example of leadership that was showed during the prelims of the Women’s 4x100m relay. What she should be remembered for in this meet was not win from Lane 1 in the finals, nor running the second fastest time in history [which was actually a Lane 1 World Record for the Women’s Relay], and not just beating Jamaica, who had 2 Olympic 100m Gold Medalists on its team, but for showing that in the face of adversity, having a great leader is the difference between winning a Gold Medal and going home with nothing.
Now, let’s remember – Felix had a bad meet going into the prelim of the 4x100 – so one can imagine where her head was after that baton was dropped. However, when the worst scenario for the U.S. relay team presented itself, it was the leadership that Felix showed that got that team to finish the race, which then lead to the sequence of events that ended in a Gold Medal. Let’s talk about the three leadership characteristics that she showed during that moment they dropped the baton in the prelim:
#1 – She showed AWARENESS
As the baton was dropped and all hopes seemed to be lost for the relay team, it was Felix, the person whose lane was impeded by the Brazilian runner, who told her teammate to pick up the stick and keep running, knowing that if they crossed the line, they could file a protest and have a chance of moving on to the final. Was she upset, yes. Could she have wallowed in her bad luck, yes [more on why she didn’t do that later]. But she understood her priority at that moment, which was keeping the stick moving so they had a chance to advance.
This is what great leaders do: they are aware of the situation. They are not thinking about the glory of the potential end result or are devastated when big mistakes take place. Felix understood that when competing, she need to be aware of the environment, her emotions, and her reactions can dictate the outcome of her and her team’s performance. And with this heightened state of awareness, it allowed her to react quickly, intelligently, and productively, so her team could have a chance to move to the next round. With our that awareness, they are probably out of the meet.
#2 – She RE-FOCUSED
One of the interesting things that you learn from about studying elite athletes, is that it’s not their ability to focus that is strong, but their ability to re-focus that sets themselves apart from average competitors. Again, this all begins with having an awareness of what is happening and learning how to react accordingly. Focusing is a decision that, when acted upon, can bring yourself and your teammates back into contention of a competition – just as Felix did. In order to re-focus, you must go through these steps:
1. Focus on a goal/task
2. Have that task disrupted
3. Being aware of yourself & the environment
4. Move your attention back to the primary goal/task [This is re-focusing]
Felix went through each of these steps during the 12 seconds her baton exchange failed, her teammate picking it up off the ground, and runs to the next exchange zone. She was focused on the task at hand by being in the correct position when it was time to hand off [but that goal [or task] was interrupted by an impediment of her lane by another athlete and the handoff failing]. She then, although frustrated, had the awareness enough to realize that if they team finished, they could file a protest. She then instructed her teammate to grab the baton and keep running so they would have a chance to advance.
Right in that instance, she made the decision to re-focus. She should have made the decision to not communicate with her teammate, put her head down, and end the race right there. But she didn’t. She did what the elite, high achieving performers do: she re-focused on the task and acted in the best manner that would help her and her team.
#3 – She DID NOT FEEL SORRY FOR HERSELF
As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, before the relay prelim began, Felix had not had a very good meet. She was favored to win the Women’s 400m, but ended up finishing second in what many believe will be her last individual event at an Olympic Games. After the race she was clearly upset, with many commentators saying that without out a doubt, her 400m result will have a negative effect on her relay performance(s) [as she along with the already completed 4x100, is scheduled to run in the Women’s 4x400m Relay Final Tonight]. I have to admit, I was curious to see if what how this was going affect her as well. But I should have remembered: Felix is an elite, high achieving, performance master. Meaning that if something goes wrong yes, she is aware.
Yes, she can re-focus. However, the thing that may be the most important skill of a leader is that she does not feel sorry for herself. You did not she her rip the bib off her jersey and throw it to the ground, nor did you seen her drowned in a pool of her own tears, or start blaming other people for her loss. She knows that she was beat. Was she disappointed – of course. But did she sulk in it and allow it to end hers [and most importantly her teammates] allow her to see this – not at all.
Great leaders internally struggle with the same issues that regular people do each day. The difference between you and them [at least I hope not all the time with you] the when they are disappointed, they know that moving on to the next thing and not focusing on failure is the best decision in that moment that they can make. And sometimes it is the difference between winning a Gold Medal and going home.
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