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Tips From The Top: One On One With Olympic Gold Medalist Lauryn Williams

Lauryn Williams, the first American woman to win a medal in the Summer and Winter Olympic games, about her journey and her best advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Lauryn: Something that would surprise people might be that I have a dog that weighs more than me, his name is Yazu and he is a Great Dane.

Adam: What is something that would surprise people about the life of an Olympian?

Lauryn: I would say that that even though we can travel the world sometimes our travel schedules don’t allow us to see much, so there are some countries that I have seen the airport, the hotel and the track and that is it. So, not quite as glamorous as some people may think.

Adam: How did you get here?

Lauryn: Being an Olympian kind of fell into my lap, not literally but, in the sense that was not a goal or aspiration of mine. In my junior year in college I ran the second fastest time in the world and I became not only an Olympic hopeful, but the favorite for 100 meters which is the premier event of the Olympics, so I would say that is how I got here.

Adam: What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Lauryn: I would say that having dropped the baton twice at the Olympic games was definitely a challenge that was a really big deal, and a setback as well but I think the way they were instrumental to my growth was they it me not to give up, to continue to show up, and taught me the importance of working together with others, it taught me a little bit about how you can compete against people without having to dislike them or that competition is healthy but professionalism is more important.

Adam: Why do you think you were the first American woman to ever win a medal in the Summer and Winter Olympic games?

Lauryn: I would because I was taking in all the various lessons and skills that sports were teaching me as I was going through the process. One of the things I just mentioned was working together with others and that was very important in the Track & Field world, but it was even more important for Bobsled because it is a team sport, so trying to figure out how to work with others, while you are competing against them. You know we are all fighting for the same spot but, is really important that each of us does our best and make sure that the driver has the best opportunity. This is about helping the team win in opposed to helping yourself win and I think that why I became a summer and winter Olympian.

Adam: What was the inside story and what personal characteristics do you attribute to making it happen?

Lauryn: I guess the inside story of it is I saw an article about Lolo Jones having tried it, and then I bumped into her at the airport and I asked how she got into it? She told me it was wonderful, that she had a really great experience, and that I should give it a try, so I tried it. In terms of personal characteristics I could say I am always open to the possibilities, the saying is that when opportunity knocks you need to be ready to open the door.

Adam: What are the best lessons you learned from the achievement of becoming an Olympian and then a gold medalist?

Lauryn: I think that the biggest lesson I learned is that you can’t put all of your energy into just one thing, I think when you focus on the achievement so much you get to the achievement and you feel a bit let down because it’s like what’s next? So I think the biggest lesson that I learned is that life is about the journey that you are on, not about what you are accomplishing, not about the goals and the accomplishment of those goals but about the process of pursuing those goals, I think is the most important thing. Also I learned to that there are different ways to contribute to a team and a win can be a lot more gratifying when you play a kind of back role or a secondary role because you understand what happened behind the scenes to make it happen, a lot of times we think winning is about gaining the spot light and getting notoriety, but I think one of the things that I learned is about the idea that is ok to win and not be the person in the spotlight because you know you made a contribution that is worth while helping everybody do well.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader?

Lauryn: Well, communication is key for an effective leader, making sure that whoever you are communication with or leading understands what the mission is, what the goals are, what the tasks are.  Communication is a really key point and not being afraid to have tough conversations I think that is also very important as well because, not everybody is going to always like what you have to say when you are the leader, for example:” you’re not in front, you are not the leader today, you did not meet the deadline, you are not going to like this job but is your job so you need to do it”, those are all the things that a leader needs to tell people but when they back off and don’t follow through with those things then it ends up that whole team loses, I think then that that is really important thing about leaders.

Adam: How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Lauryn: I would say that the biggest thing you can do to take any skill to the next level is to get outside of your comfort zone, do something you have never done before, is easy to focus on the things that you are really good at, but is not as fun or comfortable to do those things that you are not really good at and so to take your leadership skills to the next level is really important to understand what your weaknesses are and then to continue to dive into those things, but do it in a smart way as well, like there is a saying that says work smarter not harder, and so understanding the things that you need to delegate that are not your strengths at all versus things that you could develop better or that you need to have a basic understanding of, and like I said diving in a little more into those skills.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to leaders?

Lauryn: I would say the first one would be lead by example, show people that you are as invested in whatever the project or the goal is as you want them to be. If you are showing up on time, if you are working as hard as you can, that should rub off on those that you are leading and inspire them to want to do that as well.  The second thing would be humility, I think is important to understand just because you are the leader does not mean that you need to puff your chest out and rule over people, you are not a big fancy dictator that has servants, don’t treat those that you work with as servants, treat them as teammates, and is ok to be in the leadership position and be the boss,  but is not ok to treat them as less than because of the title that you have, so be humble and understand that everybody has a role, and everybody’s role is important, and a role as a leader does not make you more important than those on your team. The third one would be being efficient, whether using tech tools to communicate or figuring out what is the best way or the best time efficient to go about things and getting process in place so that everybody’s time is used wisely.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Lauryn: I would say treat others the way that want to be treated is probably the best piece of advice I have ever received. The common saying is treat others as you would want to be treated, and it means well,  is trying to encourage, well I don’t want to be treated bad so I am not going to treat others bad, but I think if you really take a deep dive into it you know getting rid of negative energy all together, then, is like how does somebody would want to be treated outside of that, because is not only about being nice to them, but is about meeting them where they are, understanding what their needs are, just try to stay aware of that, that is not about what I want for this person, but what this person wants for themselves, and how can I help them along in that area.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Lauryn: I say one thing everyone should be doing is investing time in someone else, so whether you are mentoring another adult in your field who is an upping comer, a little kid or coaching a team of some sort, we need to spend time investing in others, and that is the best way to be able pay it forward.  There are so many people out there with so little resources and that are trying to find a way to take themselves to the next level, to be better at whatever their craft or their sport or their career is, but they just don’t have the tools or the knowledge to know where to get the tools.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Lauryn: I would say one of my biggest hobbies is cooking, it really just has been a great way for me to have an outlet when I am very stressed, and I really enjoy the opportunities that exists with food.  I also enjoy reading, and it recently has been a really good way to connect with others, I have been joining multiple book clubs, I like that it creates accountability because I have someone else reading the book with me, it gives me a different perspective on the same material that I am reading, and I think reading always gives you knowledge and it definitely has helped shaped me by being able to draw on  all the things I have learned of reading books.

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