How Being A "Good Sport"​ Can Actually Make You Unstoppable In Business

Author: Shelley Zalis, CEO of The Female Quotient

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I always say that women who help other women deserve a special place in heaven, and I emphasize that collaboration beats competition every single time. I also love the Shine Theory that is all about when we help others rise, we all shine. We experienced this during the Olympics when American runner Abbey D’Agostino helped her competitor, New Zealander Nikki Hamblin, get up when she fell. She shined so bright!

A perfect example of this happened during this year’s U.S. Open when a video went viral that showed a more experienced player, Naomi Osaka, supporting a younger player, Coco Gauff, as the two were set to give their post-match interviews. Long story short, Gauff wanted to skip the interview altogether because she was not in the best mood after losing, but Osaka encouraged her challenger to stand up and stand together.

The heartwarming video reinforced the value of good sportsmanship and how, by extending a helping hand, one player was able to uplift and inspire another. And then, they together inspired the rest of us.

Good sportsmanship is not something we always talk about in the workplace, but the video got me thinking about what the term means, and how we can better apply it to our own workplaces and how we can help to lift each other up the way Osaka and Gauff did.

When you consider that, according to research from Ernst & Young, 94% of female C-suite executives played a competitive sport growing up, it should be part of the conversation. There is a clear link between playing sports and success in business.

I spoke with some other leaders in the sports world and beyond to get their thoughts on what good sportsmanship means. Here’s what they had to say.

Good sports know that we are better together. A good sport gives credit where credit is due and work towards the greater good of the team. “To me, sportsmanship is fairness, equity, it’s empathy, and really being able to see things from someone’s else’s perspective, whether you win or lose,” says workplace writer, speaker and author Erica Keswin.

It's not just about cheerleading; it’s also about action. Cheerleading is all about supporting others from the sideline, but a good sport also participates and truly engages before and after the game.

I interviewed Orlando Pride soccer players Carson Pickett and Sydney Leroux at MLS All-Star. Pickett has one arm and she shared a story about how she felt responsible for her team losing a game because she felt that her loss of arm was a weakness in the team. Her teammate Leroux took her aside afterward to say she would help her practice every day, and that her disability was going to become her greatest strength. It was a moment of amazing camaraderie.

There is power in kindness. The double standard with women is when you’re nice, you’re soft, but when you’re aggressive, you’re bossy. The same goes for a “good sport”—which can be mistaken for being a pushover. We need to change that thinking. A good sport is kind, shares, and brings people in—all things necessary for building great teams. People still say that nice girls finish last, but the truth is that the best leaders today have "soft skills," such as compassion and nurturing, that are necessary in order to build more inclusive cultures that will drive business success.

Performance reviews should include good sportsmanship. In companies that rely on hard data and P&Ls to measure performance, the less concrete metrics of collaboration, team building, and relationship-generating, where many women thrive, may not get much love or respect. What if being a good sport was included in performance reviews as a metric for success?

“Companies should celebrate and champion those actions in order to humanize themselves and encourage a healthy, collaborative environment,” says Uzma Raun, Vice President & Group Director of Sponsorship Sales at Major League Baseball, where she says the corporate environment is pro-sportsmanship. “The team I work with roots for each other in times of triumph and rallies to support when there’s a setback.”

Embrace our differences. If we were all alike, we would not be necessary. Our differences are our greatest strengths. “Compassion and vulnerability both show emotional intelligence, which is extremely important to have in the workplace. The more diverse we are in the workplace, the more we are likely to understand one another, no matter where you work,” says Zarah Al-Kudcy, head of commercial partnerships at Formula 1. “Good sportsmanship should simply mean being a great teammate and be something we should expect, not be surprised by.”

Imagine how much better the playing field—and our workplaces—would be if we had more people lifting each other up as Osaka and Gauff did. Companies don't make companies, people make companies. So let's remember that when we act like good sports in the workplace, we all win the gold!

This article was originally published on Forbes.

Shelley Zalis, known as the “chief troublemaker,” is a pioneer for online research, movement leader, and champion of gender equality. She is an internationally renowned entrepreneur, speaker, mentor, mother, and founder and CEO of The Female Quotient. Zalis rewrites the rules and innovates solutions to impact real change. In 2000, she left the corporate world to found OTX (Online Testing Exchange), which became one of the fastest growing research companies in the world. She sold OTX to Ipsos in 2010, and then led global innovation in more than 80 countries at Ipsos OTX. Today, as CEO of The Female Quotient, Zalis works with Fortune 500 companies to advance gender equality across industries. The FQ’s signature pop-up experience, the FQ Lounge (formerly the Girls’ Lounge), brings a Home of Equality to major conferences, companies, and college campuses around the world. The FQ Lounge is the gathering place for leaders of all levels at events such as the World Economic Forum, Cannes Lions, Consumer Electronics Show and the Milken Institute Global Conference. Through the destination-turned-movement, Zalis has connected more than 18,000 women in business and created the largest female-led community to transform workplace culture.




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