From the US Open to a Tech Startup: 3 Leadership lessons I Learned In The Process

Tips from Mallory Burdette:

In my career as a professional tennis player, I reached number 68 in the world, competed in the main draw of 3 of the 4 grand slams, and played against great champions like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. While winning is always fun, it was the challenges of the lifestyle that taught me the most. In each tournament, only one competitor out of 64 or 128 finished the week without losing. Even top ranked players lose a lot, which makes resilience and perseverance essential to success in tennis. When my career came to an end due to a shoulder injury, I decided to return to Stanford University to complete my degree in psychology. After graduation, I wanted to join a company that reflected what I had learned as a professional athlete, and Impraise was a great fit. As I reflect on my career and how I maintained my motivation after losses, I would like to share 3 lessons I learned:

Hard Work Must Be Focused

Hard work goes a long way, but the work must be very focused. At the end of the day, as an athlete and an employee, our time, emotional energy and physical stamina is limited. Thus, it is vital that we use our resources wisely in order to make an impact on the company’s top priorities. My coach and I constantly reassessed priorities together. For example, I may have felt that I needed to spend more time on my forehand, but he would provide some perspective and tell my why working on my serve should actually be the first priority.

Just as professional athletes rely heavily on coaches, employees in the workplace also seek feedback and guidance from mentors to gain perspective and establish or refine priorities. When we think of churn in business, we often think of employees leaving a company, but research suggests that most employees actually leave because of their managers. Similar to a tennis coach, managers play a huge role in helping employees focus their hard work. After all, if you are going to go the extra mile for your company, you want to make sure that you are putting your energy towards meaningful work.

Mallory competing

Honest Feedback is Crucial

In order to make the most of the feedback you receive, you have to be open to the learning process and to the fact that it may be difficult and uncomfortable at times. The ability to embrace all aspects of the learning process (including discomfort and failure) is vital to doing well in the workplace and to being able to adapt to changing environments. Honest feedback can be tough to handle, but accepting and implementing it is a skill that can be learned over time much like strengthening a leg muscle or an arm muscle. According to Carole Robin, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, feedback is data and having data is better than not having it because it expands our choices and results. While the game of tennis does teach you how to be independently resourceful, it can be hard to make good decisions when you are alone on the court and in the heat of battle. The importance of meeting with my coach following a match, while things are fresh on my mind, relates to the workplace when employees want timely

Receiving feedback regularly makes mistakes less scary for several reasons. Firstly, the premise of Impraise is that managers and subordinates are working together toward specific outcomes. Thus, if something goes wrong, feedback given through the platform makes is possible for both the manager and employees to work together, make adjustments and come up with a solution. Secondly, having explicit goals and expectations allows employees to look forward, which minimizes any decision paralysis that often comes in the wake of a mistake.

Mallory Burdette with coach and mentor of 10+ years, Nick Saviano

Mallory Burdette with coach and mentor of 10+ years, Nick Saviano

It’s Not All About the Result

Competition is constantly evolving in tennis; even the surface under your feet changes throughout the year. So, you are constantly learning how to adjust to new opponents and conditions. Similarly, everyone is learning on the job, whether they are learning about themselves as an individual or about their new position. Ultimately, employees cannot control outcomes so there has to be support, encouragement and drive that is separate from results. As a pro athlete competing against the best players in the world, losing was never easy, but over time, I began to view my losses as a vital part of the learning process. When I questioned myself following a loss, receiving feedback from my coach helped me gain perspective and refocus on actionable next steps. Being your best does not include being perfect or winning everyday. Sharing the learning process by seeking feedback and guidance from mentors is the best way to make the most of failure and to move forward in a positive way.