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What The US Open Highlighted About Leadership

Anyone else big tennis fans? The US Open wrapped up this past weekend, and there was a great resurgence of Americans winning and moving through the tournament, which was fun to watch. There is also some incredible young talent in both the men and women's game, and seeing how they come to the game, the way they approach play and how experience and youth have faced off has been entertaining.


Through all of the games and sets and matches (anyone else have to say it out loud to remember the order!?!), one thing really stood out and that was the way Coco Gauff navigated her game. If you are not a big tennis fan, Coco Gauff is 19 years old and has been a rising star in the tennis world for the last few years, but had yet to win a Grand Slam event. There are lots of points people raise about Coco's game - her speed on the court, her athleticism and power, her sportsmanship and her recent goal to "smile more and have fun".


As I watched her play over the last two weeks, I saw her adjust her game to those she way playing, which you would expect from elite athletes, and yet her shifts seemed different. While I am certainly no expert, and definitely was not getting insights other than what I was observing, here are the three leadership skills I saw Coco demonstrate:


1. Not overreacting in the face of adversity

How many times when we are under pressure do we overreach, overcorrect or just plain overreact to what is happening? In the finals, Coco was playing the soon to be #1 player in the world, and the first set was not a great showing for her. She was struggling to make shots, respond to Sabalenka's play and generally looked like the game might be more than she could handle. Yet, as commentators and spectators were sharing their reactions, Coco stayed in the game, watching, learning and not overreacting to her position. She knew she had to win the second set to stay in it and she did not allow the strain or emotions of the moment push her into a place where she may not be able to come back from in the game.


2. Trusting her ability to shift her decision-making with what information she has

Good leaders are able to make decisions and shift actions when they have all the necessary information, great leaders are able to do that with the information they have. Watching Coco, she was taking in information in real time and shifting, without having every detail or piece of data that might help guide her. While her coaches were there and able to provide feedback, more often than not, Coco leaned into her own ability to shift her play to better respond to what was happening on the court. To see a 19-year old do that in real time was fascinating to watch and a great reminder that training and discipline go a long way in in creating self-confidence and trust.


3. Discipline makes a bigger difference than motivation

So often, we hear people talk about how motivated someone is and how it fuels them to achieve great results, but I would argue that discipline is a far greater predictor of success. Coco showed discipline in her game, and she also demonstrated discipline around her priorities, which was reflected in her words, actions and outcomes. Regardless of whether she won this event, her discipline will keep her competitive and focused, even when there are a million distractions and detractors out there.


All of these skills point to an ability to be agile, to be willing to rethink, to be open to information and to consider new information in shifting actions and decisions. Watching Coco Gauff win throughout the tournament was a great reminder that champions and leaders have more in common than we might recognize initially and that there is a lot to learn from this young woman about being both a leader and a champion.

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