As Nike’s former International Director of Sports Marketing, Ben Crowe has worked with some of the biggest names in sport, from tennis star Andre Agassi and to Nike CEO Phil Knight.
This year, two of his stars rewrote the history books, Ash Barty is ranked world No.1 after winning the Australian Open, while athlete and paralympian Dylan Alcott was awarded Australian of the Year.
Here, the professional mentor and mindset coach shares his approach to leadership and the power of finding purpose in what you do.
The importance of owning your story
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
This is a quote from Man’s Search for Meaning, written by one of my heroes (and arguably the world’s greatest psychiatrist) Viktor Frankl, who penned his book in just nine days after being liberated from Auschwitz concentration camp.
It’s your decisions, not your conditions or environment, that determine your mindset. That might sound simple, but it’s actually very powerful. Once you realise you’re the author of your own story, you have the power to write the narrative. You have the power to own your perspective.
Rather than thinking you’ve got to work or you’ve got to take the kids to school, try changing that ‘o’ to an ‘e’. You get to work and you get to take the kids to school. This shift in perspective takes it from an obligation to a privilege, and you begin to recognise all the wonderful things you might take for granted.
I’m a big believer in the power of a ‘to be’ list. Before you can write a to-do list, you first need to ask yourself what you want to be. Do you want to be kind, courageous, confident?
How you think about yourself matters. We’re so good at telling ourselves ‘shame stories’. Things like we’re not good enough, liked enough or successful enough. We are the stories we tell ourselves, and we can reframe how we feel.
I talk to my clients about having a courage mantra, something you can repeat when you’re feeling anxious or nervous. Something that makes you go tall, not small.
It could be ‘I’ve got this’ or ‘I can do this’. Cathy Freeman’s mantra was ‘do what I know’. Jockey Michelle Payne’s is ‘let’s do this’. Pick something that works for you and come back to it in those moments when you need to override your own negative perspective.
More recently, fuelled by a desire to help as many people as possible, my team and I created the Mojo Mindset Course. The course mirrors the same journey that I take our high profile clients on, with the aim of spreading these life-changing principles far and wide. Since the course launched late last year, over 6000 people have signed up, including a large number of organisations looking to bring a focus on mindset into their workplace. The course is a personal leadership course to achieve confidence in yourself, in others, and in your performance.
Three mindsets of a leadership journey
People think confidence comes from getting results, but it can’t, because you can’t control the results. Confidence only ever comes from two places: training and mindset.
There are three mindsets you can tap into to answer three of life’s biggest questions: a connection mindset, purpose mindset and a performance mindset.
With connection mindset, the question you’re looking to answer is, ‘Who am I?’. It starts with focusing on the human being, rather than the human doing, and looking within.
This is important because we’re often so distracted by the external that we forget to look inside ourselves. We can get caught up in caring what others think of us or stressing about things outside of our control.
But it’s only once you accept yourself, celebrate your imperfections and own your story that you can go after the next big question: ‘What do I want?’
Tapping into a purpose mindset helps us work out our life’s purpose, along with our goals, dreams, values, motivations and needs.
What lights you up? What legacy do you want to leave?
Once you know who you are and what you want, you can ask, ‘How do I get there?’. This is all about performance mindset.
Like sport, life is a performance, and there are so many distractions that can sabotage us.
A lot of the work I do with my clients centres around performance mindset. It helps answer the question of ‘how do I get there’ and means focusing your attention on the things you can control, and being the best version of you, rather than getting distracted by a fear of failure or focusing on results.
Ash Barty went into the 2022 Australian Open final with three words in mind: accept, celebrate and focus. Accept the things you can’t control, celebrate the journey and the opportunities you’re creating for yourself, and focus on what you can control.
The value of vulnerability in leadership
There are two types of people on the planet right now: those who see vulnerability as a strength, and those who see it as a weakness.
If you see it as a weakness, you might be quite closed off or defensive, and probably not very compassionate. Feeling like you need to be a perfect leader with all the answers doesn’t leave much room for compassion towards yourself, which means it’s hard to be compassionate towards someone else. And without compassion, you struggle to create connections, because the mask of perfection you’re wearing puts a barrier between you and others.
But if you see vulnerability as a strength, and you lean into the risk and uncertainty and emotional exposure that comes with it, great things will happen. You’ll be more open minded, curious and compassionate, because you don’t have to be that perfect leader anymore. And you’ll create those connections that we as humans are hardwired for.
The best leaders are those who tell the best stories; those who tell the story of who they are with their whole heart. It’s impossible to be innovative without being vulnerable, so give yourself permission to be imperfect.
Leading with purpose
Whether I’m working with athletes or CEOs, I try to shift the focus from achievement to fulfilment. Rather than aiming for an extrinsic goal, like winning a Grand Slam or making a lot of money, think about the intrinsic — why you want to do something and who you want to do it for. What do you want to be celebrated for?
Having this purpose in mind helps you get out of bed in the morning, and it takes away the pressure of winning. If we could all take a step back and realise that life isn’t about us, and that it’s about the impact we can have on someone else, we’d all achieve a lot more.
To me, the definition of leadership is the ability to create an environment that helps others reach their potential. It’s not about you, it’s about how you can help your people. So how can you be the best part of someone else’s day?
To learn more about these principles and the personal leadership journey that Ash Barty and many others have been on go to MojoCrowe.com/app.
Read more incredible leadership stories from global and local leaders in our How I lead series: