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Redefine Success: What Simone Biles Is Teaching Us About Inclusive Leadership?

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at July 31, 2021

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics has an inspiring message of belonging. But, while there’s encouragement that the Olympics is a place for everyone, the 24-year-old gymnast Simone Biles, dubbed the greatest of all times, decided differently. Biles’s decision to exit the gymnastics competition amidst an impressive track record and projections to continue her legacy has left many perplexed and hopeful the decision isn’t final. Her explanation for the decision points to the importance of mental well-being. And that is what prompted me to reflect on the inclusive leadership lessons we could learn from Simone’s actions.


According to a Catalyst report, diversity and inclusion benefits that contribute to success include innovation, bottom line profits, talent, and more. If there is one, the gold medal for inclusion comes with praise internally and externally for exceptional strides in creating an inclusive workplace. It means navigating murky workplace waters to develop and implement strategies, constantly holding leaders accountable, rallying employees to model inclusive behaviors, staying abreast of shifting priorities, and delivering results. Add to that perseverance despite backlash and external activities that could cause even more stressors. And then you realize that’s a pretty big ask that could cause many to empathize with Simone’s decision to choose wellness at this juncture.  

WE MAY NEED TO CHANGE OUR SUCCESS MESSAGINGIn the workplace, we reward successes with raises, titles, opportunities, and education. But, conversely, we take action with demotions, fewer rewards, and perhaps firings when success isn’t present. Knowing this, most of us are focused on winning. But, unfortunately, this focus can take a toll on our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Leaders can model the way by sharing their success formulas and demonstrating that self-care, mindfulness, and well-being are part of the equation.

Additionally, workplaces must reassess the culture and success message. For example, from Simone Biles, we learned that the culture and pressures around winning attributed to her stepping on the brakes in her career. Do you have high performers who are watching and taking notes? 


Now is an excellent time to check the temperature in your workplace. Is the heat on? If you are focused on delivering results and not encouraging rest and recovery, then you may have a simmering issue on your hands. Have you had the opportunity to gain insights via focus groups or engagement surveys that indicate your resources are enough for your employees? How safe is your workplace to share struggles? Are there solutions readily available? Is mental well-being a priority focus area for your workplace? Did you observe and share resources during Mental Health Awareness Month? Reflect and take action on this opportunity to notice employees needing support. There may be colleagues coming dealing with many stressors that come with fostering inclusion in the workplace. The Center for Disease ControlNational Institute of Mental Health, and Society for Human Resources Management have resources available to support us in this area.

To Simone Biles, I say thank you for your courage in making yourself a priority. You taught us it’s not always easy to say no, prioritize our well-being, redefine success, and leverage resources for our mental well-being. We know we will learn many more lessons from you.


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