Lessons In Leadership: One On One With Bode Miller

I spoke to Olympic Gold Medalist Bode Miller about his journey and best advice

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I recently interviewed Bode Miller on my podcast, Thirty Minute Mentors. We spoke about Bode’s journey and best advice on a range of topics. Here are some highlights and excerpts from our conversation:

Adam: What do you do to get to the top that others didn’t do?

Bode: I had pretty early independence and a kind of self-belief and intangible qualities that I think my parents and my community helped to foster in me. I really just stuck with it longer and was more focused and more determined than other people. I wasn’t particularly skilled. I had a good, broad, athletic background and a base playing a lot of different sports and understanding my body and I was just able to play a long game, whereas a lot of kids were trying to get really good at 15 or 14 or 16. I was more like, I don’t really care how good I am right now. There’s not a lot of money in it right now. And there’s not a lot if the end goal is to be successful on the world stage, and what am I going to do to beat all the best guys in the world and that’s pretty daunting when you’re young. But I think in a way it kind of fits because you can be like, okay, there’s no pressure right now, but I do have to execute and continue to improve so that by the time I’m 20 or 21 years old, I can have a skill set that at least allows me to have a chance to win and be better than everybody else. And I knew pretty early I wasn’t going to beat guys on things like physical strength. So I just focused on the mental aspect. I was willing to manage taking risks, the creativity of being able to see line, speed in places that other guys couldn’t see, and the ability to take crashes and not hurt myself. 

Adam: In your experience, what are the keys to building a winning culture and building a winning team?

Bode: I think individualization is huge. You see it in every sport. There are football players who just don’t fit with one structure, they don’t fit with one team, and then they go somewhere else and they’re incredibly successful. I think it’s the ability for an organization or coach to allow for individualization and the application of that person’s particular skill set. And that goes for business too. You can have the smartest dude in the world, if you put him in the mailroom or you put him as a sales exec and he’s a developer, you’re not capitalizing on that person’s assets. That’s a huge part of it. Skiing is kind of unique because it’s not a team sport, it’s an individual sport. So you have to take that on yourself and be able to utilize everything, every coach, every organization, every race as a tool. Really, it was about me, it was a very selfish pursuit. And I decided to say, okay, what can I use this for? This is my current situation, this is where I’m at, how can I get the most out of this coach, or this group, this training day? And ultimately, you know, used them for my own benefit. And I think it might sound a little crass on the surface, but the reality is that’s a really good way to go about things. You still have to be sensitive and be involved and try to do the best thing you can for the group as a whole, but ultimately, if you’re not buying the right stuff for your skill set, you’re not doing anyone any favors, right? You can fit in and kind of toe the company line, but at the end of the day, you’re not going to be optimizing things. I think that skill set of leadership and of coaches and business owners is probably underrated, but the good ones do it really well. They know exactly how to put the right people in the right roles.

Adam: How did your leadership style evolve over the course of your skiing career? And what do you believe are the key characteristics of a great leader?

Bode: I needed to understand the political systems to be able to not get myself into trouble and effectively manage my development. Also, I needed to see other racers and figure out how I could integrate things they were better than me at into what I did, even if it was not going to be perfect. How do I plug those in? It takes a lack of ego in a way because a lot of people don’t focus on their own stuff and don’t take a clear objective look. For me leadership comes down to how you inspire people, how well can you analyze people without being overly critical. How can you inspire them on their strengths and then share with them the ability to be introspective enough to see their weaknesses and their limitations, and inspire them to improve?

Adam: How can anyone develop a winning mindset?

Bode: It comes down to inspiration and passion. The two are fairly close together in the spectrum of emotions. You know, if you’re passionate about something, you tend to be more involved, right? If a kid really loves to read, they end up getting good at reading. If they really love skiing, they end up getting good at skiing. That is a fundamental piece. And then the inspiration is layered on top of that. And sometimes that’s more conversational with mentors or other people, sometimes it happens all in your head. I think a winning mentality comes from the ability to inspire yourself, you know, whether it’s you making yourself into the hero of your own mind, or your own story, and you aspire to be that hero through your actions, or you put yourself in a position where you’re doing something you love so much that you’re so invested in, you’re so involved, it’s something that’s on your mind all the time, and if you really dig deep into it, I think you’ll find your own inspiration within that process. You can’t do that on things you don’t like or things that suck. I mean, no matter how disciplined you are, no matter how focused you are, if you hate what you’re doing, it’s the first thing you ditch when you have free time to go do something you do want to do. And that’s all you can do. Growing up in New Hampshire, we learned how to make things that suck fun, because if we didn’t go outside when it was freezing rain and all that meant you just didn’t go outside that much. So I think that was a unique byproduct of growing up in that area, that I got good at making things fun.It allowed me to have that enjoyment, that passion, that enthusiasm for things that I knew I had to do. And I could kind of plug that into almost anything I faced. I think maybe it’s not a really easy thing for a lot of people to do, but I luckily had an upbringing that allowed me to develop that and it was a huge part of my success.

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