Floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee: Boxing and Business
London is basking in the wake of Olympic bliss as natives cautiously trickle back into the city and celebrate an exceptionally smooth and successful two weeks of athletic magnificence. The theme of the games has been, "Inspire a Generation," and as the streets fill with bicyclists, runners, and pick-up basketball games (more than she's ever seen on the London streets, a colleague told me yesterday), you can't help but believe that it has done just that.
I believe strongly in the power of sports to develop young girls into leaders, so imagine my delight when Aoife arrived from Dublin yesterday with this blog on Katie Taylor, Olympic gold medallist and Irish boxing phenomenon...enjoy!
Olympic fever has likely had an impact on you all for the past few weeks, as a spectacular Olympic event took place in London. This is not the first time the gender agenda has considered athletics, a previous blog by Dale brought focus to the link between involvement in team sports and female success in business. This blog looks at the parallels of a successful female boxer and the successful business leader.
Here in my native Ireland, the Olympic excitement and celebrations have been amazing. A small nation (population 4.59 million), Olympic medals come few and far between. London, 2012, however presented us with our first gold medal in twenty years, awarded to Katie Taylor, of Bray, Co. Wicklow.
We all know that world champions of any nature are both special and few and far between. In boxing, like the C-suite, female champions are indeed even sparser. Those business leaders that have been truly great and are globally admired were not just successful business leaders achieving greatness during their peak, but they left behind a legacy. Katie Taylor, has and is without doubt achieving greatness. She is a five time European champion, four time World champion, and now Olympic champion.
But she has not just made history in this regard. Katie, herself, is credited with being instrumental in getting female boxing included in the London games. So successful were the female bouts, that the number of weight divisions has already been increased for Rio, 2016. It is in this regard, that Katie like the greats of the business world has not just achieved greatness, but created a legacy, and all by the tender age of 26.
Katie is a history maker; the first female boxer to win lightweight gold at an Olympics games, the first female boxer to be awarded the accolade of female boxer of the Olympic tournament, the first boxer to win a gold medal for Ireland in twenty years.
However, despite Katie’s shrewd competitive streak and ambition, she is a shy, humble, reserved and modest young woman. Traits that have endeared her so much to the Irish public and boxing world, they have made her the poster girl for sport in Ireland and women’s boxing globally. Upon completion of each Olympic bout, she thanked her faith, her team, and her support, with not a hint of an ego or self proclamation. In my mind, she achieves what Jim Collins describes as level 5 leadership. In the boardroom, she would be described as the authentic rather than the charismatic leader.
Those who might not know much about boxing might consider it a brutal and rough sport. It is however in fact nicknamed the ‘sweet science’ because it is a game of tactics. Katie studies her competitors pre-bout, analyses their form and every development throughout the fight, all while fighting with the expectations of a nation on her shoulders. Just like the boardroom executive, to achieve her accolades Katie has undoubtedly had to be a strategic thinker.
When her opposition appeared to resort to what the sport would call as ‘trash talk’ before the gold medal match, Katie did not respond. Post-win she thanked her opposition for providing an excellent and challenging fight. Katie is ethical and the consummate professional.
Despite all of her success gender has of course been a factor. For her first few years boxing she had no choice but to spar with males as there were no women in the sport. Had Katie been a male, she would have achieved national and global acclaim after her first world title. Being female, this acclaim was slower to come. But with time and success she became a national hero and sweetheart. Being female, she had to fight hard not just for her place, but for the place of her sport at the Olympic Games; where gold medal success has no doubt guaranteed her the global acclaim she deserves. These extra challenges of course drive parallels with the sentiments littered throughout the gender diversity literature and the extra challenges women have to overcome to make it to the c-suite.
Of course, being a success and dominating the field of female boxing has not been achieved solely by Katie herself. She has had the appropriate family support, boxing support, coaching team and most importantly mentoring and sponsorship. Mentors and sponsors that pushed her on, took chances on her and made opportunities for her when they did not exist. The same sponsorship ethos required for business professionals, particularly women to advance as per Hewlett’s ‘The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling’
Katie is without doubt a role model for all aspiring young sports women. The photo below shows me wishing I had just some of Katie’s talent.
However, her strategic thinking, ethics and professionalism, authenticity, ability to change the rules and create a legacy make Katie a role model and inspiration for aspiring young business women also. If Katie can make it to the top in boxing, why can’t more women make it to the top in business!
I shed a tear when Katie won her gold, and while some might consider amateur boxing and business as worlds apart, for me the opposite is true. This blog is my tribute to Katie, for the inspiration and pride she has brought to every woman in Ireland and perhaps beyond.