Simone Biles: Champion or Leader?
If you’ve been following the Olympics at all this past week, then there is no escaping the news surrounding Simone Biles. It all began with a tweet hinting at her struggles with mental health. Simone began the narrative of what would soon become the focus of the world on Sunday, July 25th after the qualifying round, saying:
it wasn’t an easy day or my best but I got through it. I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times. I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard hahaha! The olympics is no joke! BUT I’m happy my family was able to be with me virtually♡ they mean the world to me!
Unfortunately, things soon got even tougher for Simone. Not long after, Simone withdrew from team finals, the all around competition and the first three event finals. The cause for her withdrawal? Her wellbeing. Her mental health.
Simone said on social media, “For anyone saying I quit, I didn’t quit, my mind and body are simply not in sync.” She also said, “Physical health is mental health.”
The Mental Health Epidemic
After the last 18 months, we can all agree that mental health is just as widespread as the pandemic, and arguably a deeper rooted issue. You can read more about the mental health epidemic here.
There is no doubt in my mind that Simone Biles is a young woman who has faced adversity in many forms. The first being growing up as an African American woman, and I can relate to the challenges that presents. It’s public knowledge that Simone was also a victim of Larry Nassar, while simultaneously a star on the largest virtual stage at the Olympics.
When she said, “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times,” not even a part of me doubts it for a second.
Now although Simone is renowned as a hero, the best female gymnast in history, and the GOAT (greatest of all time), she is first and foremost a human being.
A Lesson in Self-Leadership
Simone Biles taught the world a lesson in self-leadership at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and I would like to thank her for that. (So Simone, if you ever read this, thank you, lady!)
I define self-leadership in my latest book, The Art of Caring Leadership:
“Self-leadership is of critical importance for the Caring Leader, in that if she doesn’t lead herself first, she cannot properly care for those she leads. She must understand her purpose and why she leads; be self-aware and understand and adapt to the people around her; have control over her mindset; understand the role of influence; consistently grow her skills; have a coach or mentor; and simply take time to care for her mind, body, and spirit” (13).
An Olympic athlete is a leader, and whether they like it or not, the whole world turns to watch them as true icons. Not all leaders bear a title. Not all leaders choose to become leaders. But, most Caring Leaders do start out as someone choosing to invest in their own self-leadership.
A True Leader
Simone Biles demonstrated true self-leadership in her exemplary self-awareness. She demonstrated a depth of understanding that most people are too afraid to delve into when it comes to self-reflection.
Simone exhibited resolute control over her mindset and extreme care for her teammates. She understood the role of her influence, but did not let the power of influence interfere with her knowledge of what was truly best for her. She took a powerful stance as she stood up for the wellbeing of her mind, body and spirit while bowing out of the competition. A Caring Leader always takes care of herself first.
Among the most basic needs of a human being, as proven by science, are safety and security. Just look at Maslow’s hierarchy. Simone Biles has proven her prowess as a leader not only in the sport of gymnastics but among the ranks of mankind as she took great care to maintain her own safety and security while under a huge amount of pressure.
A True Champion
Her decisions to withdraw from Olympic events and prioritize her mental and physical health display that she is just as much a leader off the podium as she is on it. And she is just as much a champion of her sport as she is a champion for mental health. Mental health is a challenge that nearly every human being will face at some point in their life, and that’s infinitely more people than in the world of gymnastics. So thank you again Simone Biles, you are one heck of a Caring Leader and you truly are our champion.