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Empathy is a Key Skill for Business and Sport

Lessons From Helen Glover at Kimble’s Women in Tech Group


The most useful skill to take from sport to business is empathy, double Olympic gold-medal winning rower Helen Glover told Kimble’s Women In Technology group recently.

At the 2012 London Olympics , Helen and Heather famously brought home the first British Gold medal of the Games. Helen and Heather are the World, Olympic, World Cup and European record holders, plus the reigning Olympic, World and European champions in the women’s coxless pairs. Helen is also the world’s number 1 female rower for 5 years running!

Helen said:

“When you work in the same boat with someone else you have to know them inside out. When I was rowing with Heather it took me years to work out what the best way of working with her was. I had this lightning bolt moment when I realised we were both working towards the same goal. However we were doing things and whether we agreed or not about that, I could assume that she wants the boat to go fast too. Once you make that your basic understanding, everything else seems to fall into place. I think that basic empathy and understanding is really important in business. It really helps to be able to understand someone else’s perspective but to realise you are both working towards the same goal.”

Helen discussed the ways in which she found the strength and confidence to devote herself to fulfilling her dream of becoming an Olympian — a dream that seemed out of reach to her as a teenager.

Getting to the top of her sport required huge determination, training day in and day out, rising early to row on rainy mornings, despite blisters on her hands. Training so hard for so long has altered Helen’s personality and allowed her to call on an ability to compartmentalize and focus on the task at hand.

Helen explained:

“The moments that you see on the podium — it all comes down to the moments when we are the only people rowing on the lake, or the last people left, putting in the last few miles in the last bit of daylight. Not only are these the moments that got us to the top of the podium but they are the moments that I enjoyed the most. We were getting the opportunity to chase those dreams that we had when we were little girls, and get the opportunity to say to other little girls — this could be you.”

Over the years since she started out, the prominence given to female sport stars has grown somewhat and Helen feels that for girls today, aspiring to achieve in the field of competitive sport has become a route that seems more possible.

In Q and A after the talk, Helen was asked how she dealt with stress and fear of failure. She said she had help from her psychologist, which made her realize:

“It’s OK to have put so much into something that you feel awful, that you feel sick, that you feel scared, that you feel anxious. It’s OK to feel that way, because you’re performing. But when that anxiety crept to a level that I felt was too much, then breathing techniques was what I used. Nothing too complicated, just thinking about my breathing and trying to make it regular.”

Born in 1986 in Truro to a schoolteacher and a doctor, Glover now has three children. She made a radio show called “Life After Gold” focusing on what happens to sports stars after they leave the podium. It can be a struggle to find a new challenge after devoting your life to achieving gold. “I love being a mum right now but at some point I have to find my next thing. It is a bit scary that I don’t quite know what that is at the moment but I have to get my athlete’s head on and think, ‘it’s not scary, it’s exciting’.

Kimble’s Women In Technology Group meets quarterly to discuss issues facing women in business. This forum has specifically been created to recognize and encourage Kimble women and also serve as an inclusive platform for experience sharing. Head of Pre-sales at Kimble, Nithya Shaw, who organized the talk said:

“It was very inspiring to hear from Helen. I think what stood out was that she seemed so relatable. Helen has lived a normal life in many ways. But what she has achieved is exceptional and it was great to her reflections on that experience and what she learned from it.”

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