A simple gesture can often have a profound effect that resonates throughout the culture. This has been a summer where two athletes at the height of their powers are redefining the narrative of mental health and normalizing the fact that it’s okay not to be okay. It all began when tennis star Naomi Osaka chose to skip her press conference at the French Open to take time to focus on her self-care and look after her mental health. For many, this was seen as an act of defiance breaking with a longstanding tradition. Then, more recently there was gymnastic great Simone Biles who withdrew from several events during this summer’s Olympic Games to tend to her mental health challenges as well as grieve due to a recent family tragedy.
Having each of these women use their respective platforms and make these choices are reflective of what is needed to continue to change the narrative of mental health. By amplifying the very nature that highly trained athletes who can do superhuman feats in their respective sports deal with the same vulnerability and fragility as the rest of us send a clear message, that they are just that, human. Society often deifies athletes and holds them to a higher standard. It may be time to examine the choices of these two women and see that their decisions are an opening to recognize that we as a culture need to place more value and a greater awareness of the role that hidden disabilities play in our everyday lives and being mindful of what is needed to be the healthiest version of oneself.
Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka have certainly exposed that the role of mental health and mental fitness is just as critical as one’s physical prowess. It is time for organizational leadership to truly embrace this philosophy and recognize that to be at a level of peak performance in the corporate arena one must identify how to not only engage the challenges of hidden disabilities but be cognizant that it reflects an essential management strategy that is necessary for the foreseeable future. The mental game of business is no longer drawing strategies from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War but thinking more broadly and seeing that caring for one’s inner life is an indispensable aspect of long-term business success.
As we’ve seen over the past year and a half the role of the coronavirus pandemic has continued to pound communities both physically and emotionally. In this time of transition organizational leaders must reassess metrics of performance while better cultivating a stronger, healthier corporate culture. Having a working knowledge of hidden disabilities should be a foundational element in establishing a more effective strategic outlook in a post covid future. Athletes like Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles through their actions are highlighting the mind/body connection and providing a path for corporate leaders to understand that to have employees who are truly engaged in their work and continuing to excel at their job, they must create an ethos of psychological safety where one’s mental health is essential to increasing one’s performance capacity. Finding the space to have an open and honest dialogue about mental health and hidden disabilities needs to become more the norm. In a changing work culture where hybrid models are becoming a more prevalent option, there will be new challenges ahead and businesses must be better prepared to learn and grow while providing a sense of security where various stressors, anxieties, and fears can be met head-on. Business leaders must look at new ways to involve mental fitness techniques to meet employees where they are and truly listen to their needs by creating a business culture of full inclusion and innovation.
The role of sports and the athletes who enthrall us have a lot to teach us about the human condition. Taking the time to listen and to appreciate these individuals serve not only as powerful and inspiring parables but a template for true leadership.