From 2013-2016 I led a team who achieved an unprecedented period of success in NCAA Rowing history. A few years after that series of championships, my wife asked what I thought had separated those teams from the ones I had led before and since. Without hesitation I responded, Catherine Shields.
You might think that one rower in a crew of nine women, or one athlete on a team of twenty-three, couldn’t possibly have such an outsized impact. You would be wrong. Even more surprisingly, in a sport that rewards the length and leverage of women six feet and taller, Catherine stood a scant five foot seven.
As Heraclitus said regarding the battlefield, “Out of every hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior.” Without question, Catherine was our one warrior.
In a group of “real fighters” (and we probably had more than just nine), what separated Catherine?
She modeled the way. Never injured and rarely sick, she never missed a workout.
She embraced pain and suffering. Always present, Catherine was a fierce competitor. Like all athletes she didn’t always perform a personal best, but she rarely if ever failed to perform within 0.5% of her previous personal record. Her consistency in all conditions was astounding.
She embodied truth in love. Her belief in our program and in her teammates shone in everything Catherine did. And if she believed in you and didn’t believe you, you heard about it.
By the end of her racing days, Catherine had led every Ohio State boat in which she rowed to an NCAA event Gold Medal. The teams she was a part of were NCAA Team Champions three time and runner-up once. Can one warrior really make that big difference? I would say yes.
As leaders, it’s our job to set the edge, focus on execution, and commit to excellence. It is also our job to focus on the few, especially the one warrior who, through her behavior and belief, can influence an entire team and yield a level of performance not possible without her.
Set the edge. Focus on the few. Where’s your focus, leader?