Jeremy Wotherspoon and a lesson is living up to expectations

Posted December 9, 2009 in Latest News & Insights

Sitting in a coffee shop today, I grabbed the Sports section of the Toronto Star (no, not to get the latest on Tiger Woods) and found a cautionary lesson for leaders everywhere, but especially for you Type A overachievers.

Inside was a story on Canadian speed skater Jeremy Wotherspoon.  You may remember Wotherspoon… he’s one of the most celebrated 500m racers in the sport’s history.  And, like so many other highly talented atheletes (think Perdita Felicien’s fall in Athens, Adam van Koeverden‘s loss in Beijing and the entire 2004 US “Dream Team”), Wotherspoon suffered a major career set back at a moment when he should have succeeded.  In 2002, he stepped onto the ice at the Salt Lake City Olympics and FELL two steps into the race of a lifetime.

From the article, Wotherspoon reflects: “I think people don’t tend to understand how when I didn’t do well and I was portrayed a certain way I had trouble dealing with that,” said Wotherspoon.  “I’m still trying to make sure that I’m okay with that because it’s something that comes with competing in the Olympics.”

and on why his turn in Turin four years later was equally disappointing:

“I think a large percentage of me was worried about ‘I don’t want it to look like I choked,’ especially after the Salt Lake City Olympics,” he said.  “That’s not a good thing to focus on.”

No it’s not.

Now, we’re not all going to work every day on the “world stage” like an Olympic athelete, but there’s a valueable lesson in here about pressure… and the simple fact that ALL pressure comes from within.  The pressure Jeremy Wotherspoon put on himself was based on internalizing what others were saying about him and the expectations HE felt they had for him in the lead up to his first and second Olympics.  The overemphasis on what others think vs. putting focus and energy into the task at hand is what, I believe, ultimately caused him to derail.

Don’t believe me?

Contrast this outcome with Elizabeth Manley’s winning turn at the Calgary Winter Olympics when she went in with a clearly “what the heck, I’m here to have fun attitude”.  She ended up as Canada’s spoiler who upset the battle of the “two Carmens” and scooped the silver medal much to everyone’s surprise.

So here’s the point for you to reflect on… as a leader, how much pressure are you putting on YOURSELF based on the imagined expectations of OTHER PEOPLE?

Sure, a little pressure is great and probably improves performance.  But what’s the tipping point?  What are you doing to make sure you’re not letting other people’s expectations create an internal pressure cooker that may actually prevent you from living up to your true potential?

If you’re feeling too much heat, it’s time to get some external perspective.  Hire a coach (Liz Manley had one), work with a mentor or join a peer coaching program.  An external perspective is the perfect antidote for an internal pressure overdose.  Not sure where to start? Check out our programs and, if they’re not for you, we’ll recommend some that may be.

Don’t cave under internal pressure.  Our organizations need better leaders… and that means you.

Happy leading!


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