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Leadership
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Mikaela Shiffrin’s Leadership Question You Need To Answer

Bruce Weinstein
· Oct 17, 2022
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Mikaela Shiffrin’s disqualification from the 2022 Winter Olympics Women’s slalom competition raises a potent leadership question that all of us face: how should we respond to our mistakes?

How Shiffrin responded

Shiffrin made a mistake that cost her a chance for a gold medal in her signature event. Her response was heartbreaking. “I will try to reset again and maybe try to reset better this time,” she told reporters after the event. “But I also don’t know how to do it better, because I just don’t. I’ve never been in this position before, and I don’t know how to handle it.”

“If I am going to ski out on the fifth gate,” she added, “well, what’s the point?”

Those of us who have never competed in the Olympics can’t begin to fathom the depth of disappointment Shiffrin is experiencing. But we’ve all made mistakes that make us question our abilities and even who we are.

Compassion and its role in moving forward

Compassion is a crucial quality of high-character leaders. What is it, and to whom does it apply?

“Compassion” means “to suffer with.” It is both a feeling and an action. It is through action, after all, that compassion is most useful. When we learn that a good friend has a serious illness, we feel bad for that person, but feeling bad isn’t good enough. In most situations, a compassionate response calls for us to do something rather than nothing.

That something doesn’t have to involve becoming that person’s caretaker. A simple phone call to say “I’m here for you” may be the best action to take, at least for now.

How can we act compassionately toward people we don’t know?

Up until a few decades ago, there wasn’t a lot that fans could do when something bad happened to our heroes. Yes, there was the option of writing a heartfelt letter, which some people did, but that took some time and effort.

Now with the advent of social media, it takes only a few seconds and minimal effort to send a message of support. If you want Shiffrin to know that you care about her, a tweet or Facebook message would make much more of a difference than simply feeling bad about her misfortune.

That’s what Shiffrin’s colleague and fellow Olympic champion Lindsey Vonn did. “Gutted for @MikaelaShiffrin,” Vonn tweeted, “but this does not take away from her storied career and what she can and will accomplish going forward. Keep your head high.”

When it comes to social media and the devices we use to access them, there is a lot worth criticizing. We sometimes overlook, however, the rich benefits of 21st century communication. A major one is turning our feelings of compassion into action.

Compassion isn’t just about how we treat others

When it comes to applying leadership lessons to our lives, sometimes we forget that it’s just as important to apply them to ourselves as it is to others. But we overlook this at our peril.

At the beginning of a flight, we’re told, “In the event of the loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop down. Put them on yourself before assisting others.” Why? Isn’t that selfish? What if you’re with a small child who can’t fend for themselves?

Putting the oxygen mask on ourselves first is a selfish thing to do, but it’s selfish in the best possible way. We can’t be of any help to anyone if we’re incapacitated.

It is right and good to treat people compassionately. The scope of that compassion ought to include ourselves too.

The leadership lesson that Mikaela Shiffrin’s situation offers us

Later this week, or even today, you will make an upsetting mistake. Perhaps right now you’re dwelling on a mistake you made recently. You can acknowledge the mistake and vow to do better next time, or you can beat yourself up and ruminate about it.

As challenging as it is to choose the first option, isn’t that the better path?

I reckon I’ll follow my own counsel now and send Mikaela Shiffrin a note of support. Thank you for reading this.

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