Katrina Webb OAM may well be recognised for her unique athleticism and outstanding success as a Gold, Silver and Bronze winning three times Paralympic athlete, but it is her success off the track as a professional speaker and high performance consultant that has seen her requested by corporate clients worldwide to help improve the performance of their people.
What would you say was the defining moment in your leadership journey?
I don’t think I had a defining moment as such, but it was a gradual series of moments over time.
When I was a young child, I did not want to be seen as different. I was worried that people would not accept me. I had been programmed from a young age (as we all are) to ‘fit in’ in a traditional sense. But over time, as a young prospective athlete, I realised that this was the cause of quite some stress and self-hatred, just for the sake of trying to be someone I am not. With the encouragement of those around me, I then decided to compete as a Paralympian.
Looking back now, the key thing that I took away from that period is that I learnt to be my real self. This is all anyone can be and should strive to be. Don’t try to be someone you are not; be your best friend and be truthful to yourself.
So I guess you are talking about ‘authentic’ leadership here – being yourself first and foremost?
Absolutely. When I was younger, I did not have the benefit of maturity and hindsight, and just assumed I did not have the qualities to be a leader. I was thinking here of leadership in the traditional sense: authoritarian, hierarchical and male.
But now I’ve learnt that anyone can be a leader, and different leadership styles are useful in different contexts. A big part of effective leadership is bringing your own personal style and personality to get the most out of your team. Knowing this influences my approach to leadership, and I try to be inclusive in the way I lead, as I feel that matches my personality.
Is there any advice you would give to younger women who are looking to lead?
In the last 3 years I have worked with more than 200 women who want to be leaders. I tell women to define your vision of what you want to be and achieve. This is a really important and fundamental part of the process.
Having a vision and believing in it is a big part of starting to make things happen. Without this, we can often get stretched or pulled in different directions. This then can lead to stress and a sense of being overwhelmed and underachieving, which then leads to further anxiety. So the other key part of this is to take time to look after yourself throughout your leadership journey. So much of what I do now is really focus on wellbeing and resilience as a key component of leadership success. Your support network (friends, family and work colleagues) are as important as you are throughout this process.
Can you give me an example of a time when you learnt from the uncomfortable or from a negative experience?
After winning Gold in 1996 in Atlanta, I only managed to win Silver at my home town Sydney Paralympics. This was a huge disappointment for me. I felt like a failure. I had not run a personal best, and felt that I had underperformed in front of all the people that meant so much to me.
Working with my psychologist afterwards, I realised two key things: I had spread myself too thin leading up to Sydney and feelings of disappointment have to be contextualised.
In the lead up to the Sydney Paralympics, I was helping way too many people and organisations with all kinds of activities, and I was not focused enough on the main objective at hand – winning Gold in Sydney. So it is important to have checks and balances in place and learn to say ‘no’ – as women, we sometimes don’t say no enough (or at all). Even when it is at the detriment of our own goals.
Realising that Silver was still such an incredible achievement also helped a lot. There are many people around the world who cannot even dream of competing at a global sporting event, let alone winning Silver at it.
What are your future plans?
I am still building my personal brand and business, and now run leadership programs and overseas fundraising expeditions (mainly in Nepal). I also speak regularly at events, and am really looking forward to being part of the 2018 Women’s Leadership Symposiums.
Katrina Webb OAM is a Triple Paralympic Gold Medallist and Business Woman. Katrina has spoken at previous WLA events and will be speaking as part of the 2018 Women’s Leadership Symposium in Canberra and Hobart.
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