Shaun White, Olympic Gold Medalist, and VUCA Leadership

Fri, Feb 26, 2010

One of my guilty pleasures is watching Oprah. I don't watch it live so when I do have a few free moments, I turn on the digital video recorder and catch up. Last week, on February 19, Oprah had Shaun White, the Olympic Gold medalist on as one of her guests. He flew overnight from Vancouver to Chicago to be on her show. I have to admit that I hadn't been following Shaun White, his career, or his sport--snowboarding. I did catch his medal winning half pipe performance and his exuberant reaction to winning gold. When he spoke to Oprah about what it takes to pull of such a daring performance, my ears perked up. There is a relationship to VUCA and tangles I thought!

Shaun's specialty is jumping off a  cavernous, icy rim and twisting up in the air, landing on a banked edge of now. He calls his trick the special double McTwist. According to White, he has to be committed before he takes off. "It's all about commitment," he declared.  Shaun jumps off what looks like a sheer cliff, twists around, and somehow lands without seriously injuring himself.

Likewise, business executives, leading through VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity) sometimes feel like they are jumping off of a cliff, and have no idea if they and their company will land safely. Shaun White has to know that he is going to land his jump before he takes off. His sheer commitment propels him to ensure that his body cooperates with his mind.

Likewise, corporate executives have to feel a high level of commitment to consequential decisions. Only that commitment will ensure a safe corporate landing. An internal shift takes place when I make a true commitment to a direction. When I am committed, everything seems to fall into place. I believe that this is the inner state that Shaun arrives at when he takes off for his daredevil jumps. Shaun explained that he can't see where he is going when he takes off. He has to spot his landing place upside down!

How often do you as a business leader really know exactly what obstacles and challenges you will encounter when you make a significant decision? Like Shaun White, you sometimes can't see where you are going until nearly the end. The inner state of total, unshakable commitment is often what provides the fuel, creativity, resourcefulness, and dedication to pull off the corporate equivalent of a double McTwist.

Congratulations to Shaun White for having the courage to go for it, and thanks to him for sharing some important wisdom.

Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

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