Written by
Changeboard Team

Published
12 Jun 2012

Go for gold exclusive interview with Dame Kelly Holmes

12 Jun 2012 • by Changeboard Team

Why did you set up the DKH Legacy Trust?

I’ve seen first-hand the difference that world-class sports performers can make to the lives of young people.
We give young people the chance to work with and be mentored by our team of Olympians, Paralympians, World, and Commonwealth champions. The challenges and experiences that elite sports performers go through can be used to help young people – not only in sport but in everyday life, too.

What personal legacy do you want to leave behind?

I want to create a legacy from my career that benefits young people who look up to and are inspired by the elite sportspeople they see on TV.

I’m well known for winning two gold medals at the Athens Olympics in 2004. What most people don’t know is that for the first few years of my life I was in and out of care homes. My father left my mum when I was just a year old.

As a teenage single mother, things were so tough for her that I was put up for adoption, until she changed her mind at the last minute.

School wasn’t easy for me either, until my PE teacher saw my potential and put me in a cross-country race. Finding my talent changed my life – it gave me the chance to set my sights on a goal. I want to give the same to other kids who haven’t had the best start in life.

How can you inspire others to reach potential?

In 1984, when I was 14, I watched Sebastian Coe win gold in the Los Angeles Olympics. That moment made me want to be the best that I could be.

I believe the London Olympic and Paralympic Games are a once in a lifetime chance to change young people’s lives. My charity is helping to deliver the London 2012 Young Leaders Programme, which is sponsored by BP. We’re giving 100 disadvantaged young people the opportunity to take part in a life changing personal development scheme, with training and coaching from Olympic and Paralympic athletes. This culminates in them volunteering at the Games.

Already, they are engaging and inspiring over 1,000 other young people in their local areas. I think this is a great example of how business leaders at BP are using the Olympics to inspire.

Why do people need role models and mentors?

Everyone benefits from shared knowledge, experience and advice. The one-to-one encouragement from a mentor can take someone from being 'good' to 'great'.

Every potential champion needs a champion to be inspired by. That’s why I’m involved with various educational and mentoring programmes, such as the Jaguar Academy of Sport and K2 Performance System’s business coaching programme.

How to ensure teams deliver Olympic performance?

By creating a culture where the sharing of knowledge and strengths is commonplace. This will build a high-performance team of individuals who support and challenge each other every day. The secret is in encouraging competitive collaboration rather than just being competitive with each other.

Adapting your language in the workplace helps boost confidence too. Stop having conversations about whether or not you ‘might’ win and instead talk about ‘how’ you will put in the best performance you can.

How can leaders foster self-belief?

Too often – and you only have to look at the average appraisal process – there’s too much focus on people’s weaknesses rather than their strengths.

By identifying strengths, you breed confidence, resilience and positivity. A leader should ensure individuals are exposed to challenging opportunities that play to these strengths, while providing continuing guidance, coaching and support.

Take time to notice and comment on your team’s achievements, no matter how small, and find meaningful ways to recognise and celebrate these wins. This will help to reinforce inner strength and self-belief.

How can you help others overcome setbacks?

Never judge anyone solely on the merits of their last result. Future confidence can actually increase as a result of a failure, if you carry out a focused, balanced performance review that takes a fair but accurate look at the context of the performance.

Consider factors that are out of the individual’s control, and identify what can be done differently next time around. I’d experienced a mixture of successes, setbacks and disappointments before I went on to win double gold, but my coaches never wavered in their approach or allowed me to lose sight of my goal.

With their help, I became confident, focused and motivated to deliver better performances, and arrived at each race feeling more prepared than ever before. This methodology can be easily transferred into the workplace.

Dame Kelly Holmes your journey to success

Q. Who inspired you most throughout your career?
A. My PE teacher was first. Then Sebastian Coe – who inspired me to want to be an Olympic champion – and my coaches.

Q. In what way were they a great role model/coach to you?
A. By building my confidence, guiding me through setbacks, getting the best out of me, managing expectations and having a vision of what I wanted to achieve.

Q. How do you role model your own leadership behaviours to your colleagues, peers and clients?
A. I give them room to grow but also challenge them to be better. I mentor and guide but also push them to want to achieve.

Q. How do you personally cope with challenge?
A. I believe we can only get better through facing challenges and learning from them. I don’t like getting things wrong, but doing so makes me think differently the next time I come across a difficult situation.

Q. What are the proudest moments of your career so far?
A. Joining the Army, becoming a physical trainer, and then winning double Olympic gold.

Q. What is your future goal – how do you keep striving to perform at your best?
A. It’s taken a few years to identify where I want to go next with my life, and I now aim become a successful businesswoman. I will use the same approach as I did throughout my athletics career: work hard, learn my trade, get a good strong team behind me, take the rough with the smooth and be determined.

Keith Hatter how to inspire as a leader

Leaders have to change their mind-sets around talent. In the corporate arena, the focus is now on talent identification, retention and acquisition. But it’s talent fulfilment – making sure that individuals reach their potential and are surrounded with all the resources they need to make that happen – that’s most important. We also need to be ruthless about those who aren’t interested in working hard.

1. Inspirational leaders are often just great at making sure they don’t demotivate. Don’t see it as your job to motivate everyone – instead, create an environment in which everyone has the best chance of motivating themselves. Set broad goals, not excruciatingly detailed ones, and continually emphasise why the work is important.

2. Encourage people to see themselves as performers, rather than just a job title. They will focus on becoming better at doing their jobs, not just executing a role.

3. As a leader, you can help them to pursue their dreams and hopes by identifying their strengths. Next, help them value these strengths, and put together a plan to proactively use them every day. 

4. Encourage individuals to help their teammates improve. Once they see that this is part of their role, they’ll start asking different questions, and become effective at helping others to intelligently review their performances.

About Keith Hatter, CEO, K2 Performance

We help the corporate world to prepare and perform like elite athletes. Some call what we do performance psychology. Some call it high performance coaching. Some call it truly transformational. We think we simply help our customers do what they can do, but don’t.