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Leadership lessons from Bianca Andreescu

Updated: Sep 11, 2019

Everyone around me is talking about Bianca Andreescu’s amazing win at the 2019 U.S. Open. If you haven’t heard, Andreescu – at 19 years old – is the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam tennis championship, beating Serena Williams (a tennis legend and one of Adreescu’s idols) in straight sets. What’s even more remarkable about this story is that one year ago, she failed to even qualify for the tournament. At the beginning of this year, she was ranked 152nd and her goal was to break the top 100 by the end of 2019 – a goal she achieved in the first month. By February, she adjusted her goal, aiming to reach the top 50 by the end of 2019. In one of her many interviews she said, “I guess I have to start setting my goals higher.” She’s also said that, despite her win, she didn’t play her best tennis at the U.S. Open. Event with injuries throughout the year, she maintained an impressive focus on achieving, then surpassing her goal, which she attributes to mindfulness, meditation and believing in yourself.

What leadership lessons can we take from Andreescu’s success? Five points came to mind immediately after listening to her first few interviews:

1. Stay positive. Andreescu noted that there were times when she would get down on herself, she would smash rackets and yell at herself. When she found that didn’t help her win, she sought advice and worked hard to change her outlook to be more positive.

There is ample evidence that being positive improves health and well-being. The Mayo Clinic lists several benefits, including better physiological health and improved ability to deal with stress and hardship. Not only is positivity a benefit to health, there is evidence that optimists also have better finances, are more likely to be promoted and less likely to experience burnout.

Not positive by nature? It can be learned! Psychology Today provides 11 tips to boost a positive outlook, including savouring the good moments and being grateful.

2. “Dream big to get big”. Andreescu credits a lot of her success to the support of her parents as well as using visualization, meditation and mindfulness techniques that her mother taught her. Elite athletes like Andreescu have used visualization successfully for many years and the science behind this indicates that the brain doesn’t distinguish between real and imagined experiences.

What does this mean outside of the world of sports? Like elite athletes, anyone can use visualization techniques to imagine achieving whatever is defined as success. By holding the moments in mind, people who visualize are more likely to find themselves there. Forbes has 5 steps to help anyone new to visualization. Author Jack Canfield also has some free list of visualization techniques on his website.

3. Work hard. This should go without saying. There is no question that Andreescu showed promise to be an elite tennis player from an early age. Talent is just the beginning of the journey. To reach the top in anything, hard work every day is required. The best never stop developing, changing, adapting and working hard every day – even on the days they just don’t feel like it. Andreescu has said over and over in interviews that she worked “so hard” to get to that moment.

Hard work is fairly easily defined for athletes: practice, training, practice, playing the game, practice, watching video and practicing. What does “work hard” mean for those that are not elite athletes? The answer is different for all of us, just as the definition of success is different for all of us. Each of us must define what that looks like and determine the level of work required to achieve that success.

4. Control what you can. In several of her interviews, Andreescu noted that she was focused on what she could control and let go of what she couldn’t – one of the factors that she successfully controlled was not letting the hometown crowd get to her. At one point in the match, she plugged her ears because she could hardly hear herself think.

In The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor talks references what psychologists call the “locus of control”. People that have an internal locus of control tend to reflect on how their own behaviours can impact their lives and feel a greater sense of control and satisfaction in general. Those with an external locus of control view outside events as impacting them.

This is critical for anyone trying to achieve their goals. There are any number of obstacles to achieving goals, some can be anticipated, and some cannot. In Andreescu’s case, she knew that she would be facing one of the best tennis players of all time – one of her idols and that the New York crowd would be cheering for her competitor. She could control how she prepared for it when it happened. She also had to prepare for how it might feel to face her idol once again. Andreescu focused on her own preparation and reactions to outside events to succeed.

If you find that your locus of control is focused externally, you can change that! Achor’s book can guide you through the process.

5. Everyone needs help. Even an extraordinarily gifted athlete cannot win alone. While Andreescu is the person on the court, she acknowledged that she has an amazing team around her – especially her parents. She had coaches, trainers, doctors and friends to support her, not just during her outstanding 2019 season, but throughout her tennis career.

Famously, even the Beatles needed a team behind them to write and record “With A Little Help From My Friends”. Leading So People Will Follow author Erika Andersen notes that different support systems are needed for success, including people with important insights who can help develop skills; people who stand behind the leader to act as a cheerleaders and inspiration; and people who may seem to operate in the background, but who should not be ignored - at some point they could be a critical piece of the puzzle in a difficult task.

Bianca Andreescu has proven herself to be a talented and hard-working athlete who isn’t going to rest on her recent success. As she continues to use the tactics above, she will no doubt continue to win big.

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