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Leadership Lessons From Retiring Tennis Star Serena Williams
Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert
Washington, DC
Sunday, September 4, 2022


Tennis star Serena Williams recently announced she would retire and pursue opportunities outside the sports world. The unexpected announcement triggered observations from corporate executives about the leadership lessons business leaders can learn from Williams' accomplishments on and off the tennis courts.


"The first lesson that we can learn in business from Serena Williams is resiliency," Andrew Rosen, president of financial planning firm Diversified, said via email.

"Serena was incredibly resilient in her career, coming back from injuries and setbacks, and that's an important lesson in business as well, to be resilient when deals and projects don't necessarily work out your way," he pointed out.

Teams Matter

"Another lesson to take from Serena Williams is the importance of your team," Rosen noted.

"While her tennis seems like a solo sport, Serena surrounded herself with a team of experts that she met with to help her succeed. It's important as a business leader to recognize that you're not an expert in everything and to delegate and trust in your team to help you reach the finish line," he counseled.

Have A Winner's Mindset

"When Serena was little, she was not very good at tennis," Matt Doherty, a former head coach at the University of North Carolina, where he was the 2001 national coach of the year, recalled via email. He's now a leadership building and team development expert and chair of Vistage Worldwide.

"She had to play second fiddle to her more established and famous sister, Venus. Venus got to play in a lot of good events, while Serena served as her warmup partner and then had to watch but, that helped Serena. It drove her to work harder while getting to study the best players in the world compete at the game she loved. She turned a negative into a positive. That is the winner's mindset," he observed.


Set Your Own Course

"Dealing with strong personalities her entire life, from her father, Richard, to her long-term coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena always made it clear that the ultimate decisions would be hers. This is a remarkably important lesson for any leader," Aron Solomon, head of strategy and chief legal analyst at Esquire Digital, said in a statement.

"Whether in business or sport, there can only be one person who ultimately sets your course and determines your own trajectory for success," he recommended.

'Always Be Planning Your Next Move'

"Always be planning your next move or your exit strategy," Victoria Pelletier, managing director, global CEO transformation at Accenture, observed via email.

"Serena has been working at other interests and passion, from clothing lines to philanthropic activities, thus giving her a lead in her retirement/next steps.

"You are more than your existing role/job—you need to build a strong brand that is based upon not just the subject matter expertise that you have developed and are paid for, but all of the unique elements that make up CEO You…" she advised.

"When you do choose to stop and set your mind, body, and energies on something else, craft your own exit. Serena did this remarkably elegantly last week through the perfectly-timed release of the Vogue article," Solomon noted.

"Leaders in business tend to be less skilled at this as they often are not in [full] control of when or how they exit a business or industry," he noted. "The key here is to follow Serena's lead and be proactive, envision the course that you want and make the right plan and decisions to make that happen," Solomon concluded.

Learn How To Transition

"Elite athletes are in the business of practicing getting better every day, and they offer a precious model of everyday practice to corporate environments,Heidi Brooks, a senior lecturer in organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, said via email.

"There is a chance for corporate leaders to learn from Williams' transition to [her next] phase—those skills of learning every day in a new arena while juggling parenting and other demands. Williams is shifting her professional attention to an area new to her. It may take some time, but keep an eye out to see how she rocks the world of finance while parenting. Many leaders in all kinds of fields have the capability to transfer into new capacities," she concluded.


Edward Segal is a crisis management expert, consultant and the bestselling author of the award-winning Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey). Order the book at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0827JK83Q/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

Segal is a Leadership Strategy Senior Contributor for Forbes.com where he covers crisis-related news, topics and issues. Read his recent articles at https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsegal/?sh=3c1da3e568c5.

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