Involvement in athletic competition as a young woman taught me invaluable leadership lessons that help me in my professional life. With passage of Title IX forty-one years ago—landmark legislation guaranteeing women equal access to educational and athletic opportunities—generations of American women have cultivated leadership skills through sports. The most important lessons for me are:
Effort trumps talent. Sports competition requires diligence, dedication, and determination. An athlete of modest natural ability, I couldn’t throw or shoot a ball of any kind, so when I started to play field hockey in middle school, I knew I needed to work harder than my teammates: more studying, more repetitions, and extra drills. I wasn’t the most talented player, but no one worked harder. Vince Lombardi said, “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort.” My experience in business confirms that hard work triumphs over talent when talent fails to do the hard work.
Know your strengths. Playing goalie was the best position for me because it engaged my strengths. Preparation, confidence, and strategic thinking compensated for my average athleticism. As a lawyer, I’m aware of my distinct assets and how they help my team succeed.
Learn from mistakes, then forget them. As a goalie, I learned not to fixate on mistakes. I had to acknowledge them, make corrections, and continue. In business, the same is true.
Capitalize on strengths of others. Any team’s success requires each player’s contributions, not just yours. Defending penalty strokes was not my strength, but another goalie excelled at it. Our coach recognized this and made her play in certain situations. This what was best for our team. As a lawyer, I understand my shortcomings and ask for help when needed.
Teamwork maximizes achievement. Athletes learn, as Michael Jordan said, that “talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” On the field, playing for the name on the front of my jersey yielded better results than playing for the one on my back. Working together toward a common vision is key to attaining positive results in business, too.
Growing evidence shows that early experiences in sports lead to success for women in other fields. With millions of girls across our country participating in athletics, including my own daughters, I am greatly optimistic about our future leaders.
What does it take to succeed and stay competitive in your position/field?
A commitment to excellence and willingness to learn new skills.
Is there a role model who has had a profound impact on your career and/or life? What did he/she motivate you to do?
My first boss and mentor, Julie Sandorf, was ambitious for a considerable cause—ending homelessness. She taught me that passionate people with a righteous cause and bold ideas can change the world.
What advice would you give young women building/preparing for a career?
Develop strong team-building skills. Teamwork is the key to uncommon results.