Leadership Lessons from Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles

Leadership Lessons from Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles

I am at that stage in my career where I am seeing the newer generation challenge and redefine norms and expectations. When I started my career in big law, there was this expectation to go above and beyond at all costs. Yet, being sad, depressed, and mentally exhausted were considered signs of weakness that should not be displayed. 

It is humbling to see the world’s greatest jolt society into a compassionate sphere: compassion for self and others. The world within which we operate is challenging. Black women still make 63 cents to every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man makes, and the pandemic turned the clock back in terms of impact on Black women. The last few weeks were a reminder that sexual harassment in the workplace is still very much a reality. And we are now just starting to really broach the topic of mental health in the workplace.

Emerging from these bleak realities is a different form of leadership, one that requires leaders to be supportive of others, which celebrates candor and transparency, and demands that mental health be prioritized. 

Below are a few tenets of this empathetic leadership that Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka embody:

  1. Elevating women of color. We’ve seen Simone support her teammates from the sidelines in Tokyo. We also saw Naomi support Coco Gauff during the 2019 U.S. Open. This support of not just their peers but also their competitors is a healthy departure from the ‘me first’/zero-sum game approach. The effect here is twofold: they are lifting up women who, by virtue of their race, are at a disadvantage. Additionally, they are nurturing the next generation of diverse leaders that will, in turn, emulate these values of community and kindness.
  2. Raising awareness about mental health. A recent study showed that “up to 80% of people will experience a diagnosable mental health condition over the course of their lifetime.” Mental health issues are, therefore, the norm. When Naomi uses her platform to discuss the prevalence of mental health issues, it adds urgency to addressing this topic.
  3. Putting personal mental health first. A few months ago, Naomi challenged convention by refusing to attend French Open press conferences to protect her mental health. When she received pushback from the establishment, Naomi withdrew from the French Open to prioritize her mental health. During the Tokyo Olympics, Simone withdrew from certain events because she was fighting internal ‘demons.’ Naomi and Simone have demonstrated that it’s OK to sit a round out. As humans who navigate the ups and downs of life, we can’t always perform. Naomi and Simone are normalizing the idea that it’s OK to take a beat to regroup and engage in self-care.
  4. Being vulnerable is an act of bravery. Instead of having to fight against one’s demons silently in a corner, Simone and Naomi have proven that we don’t have to feel shame regarding our mental health issues.
  5. Leveraging their platforms to advocate for social justice. From speaking out against sexual abuse to wearing masks with the names of victims of police brutality, both use their voices to shine a light on systemic racism and systemic abuse against women.

Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka have taught us all these lessons while winning Olympic medals and Grand Slams. They have shown us that we can be the best in our field, elevate those around us, all the while putting our mental health first. This new form of leadership will unlock the potential of scores of diverse leaders who will, in turn, be leading from a place of compassion, self-love, and community

Kindred’s Chief Impact Officer, Sarah Green-Vieux, is an ESG expert, holding a degree from Georgetown Law. Sarah joined Kindred from JUST Capital, where she held the role of Director, Human Rights & Communities. She led research on the types of opportunities companies created for local communities and minorities, including second-chance policies, veteran hiring policies, and funding local educational efforts. She also developed research on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and privacy rights. A licensed attorney, Sarah was an associate for law firm White & Case’s arbitration department, where she worked on multimillion-dollar international disputes. Sarah currently serves as a Board Member of Middle Project, a non-profit dedicated to preparing ethical leaders for a just society. A committed advocate for development and human rights, she has volunteered with a civil rights firm in New York, trained Haitian judges on arbitration in Port-au-Prince, and launched the opening of a medical facility in Burkina Faso. Sarah is most recently a new mother to a beautiful young girl named Zora!