Interview with Dain Blanton, Gold Medal Winner


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Interview with Dain Blanton, Gold Medal Winner

  1. 1. From Gold Medals toGolden Rules:Lessons from Dain Blanton,Beach Volleyball GoldMedalist
  2. 2. From Gold Medals to Golden Rules Dain Blanton is an American beach volleyball player who, with Eric Fonoimoana, won the gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He also participated in the 2004 Athens Olympics with Jeff Nygaard, becoming the first two-time U.S. male beach volleyball Olympian. His new career in sports broadcasting has involved stints with ABC, NBC, ESPN, Fox Sports Net, and Universal Sports Network. Dain Dain Blanton gets invited to many motivational speaking events each year to inspire and be a role model to many.Forum: As an Olympic gold medalist you have achieved in your profession what manyonly dream of: the summit. Congratulations! What are the words of encouragementyou have for others who strive to reach the peaks of their professions?Dain: Believe in yourself and always play to your potential. When Eric and I went tothe Olympics people doubted us: no one really gave us a chance. And yet we knew wecould win it. We set ourselves a goal: “Bring home some jewelry.” We didn’t care whatcolor medal but we knew we had prepared ourselves, and we believed we could win.When it came to the gold/silver medal game, I knew I was ready, and all I had to do waseverything I could. That’s all. Eric and I played to our potential and executed. We beat theBrazilians and won gold, because we believed in ourselves and in each other.Forum: As a spectator of beach volleyball in the Olympics in London, I was glued tothe screen because every single play on every single point was fought for by everyplayer. The pairs who were able to sustain that level of focus and intensity went on towin. How do you see that intensity translate for leaders in business?Dain: I am always nervous when I perform in front of big crowds. It’s nerve wracking.At the same time I use those nerves. I can and do push my limits—I know my strengthsand weaknesses and I exploit them. For some, the big games and big points areoverwhelming. For me, I enjoy the challenges of competitive play, and I think I’ve learnedto adapt to big situations. I think it’s the same in business: each of us can rise to theoccasion. Or be overwhelmed by it. If we’re prepared and we believe in ourselves, we riseto the challenge.Forum: Back to beach volleyball, the partnership that Misty May-Treanor and KerryWalsh Jennings demonstrated for 12 years is undoubtedly part of their secret tosuccess as “three-peat” gold medalists. You had your own great chemistry withEric Fonoimoana. What features of beach volleyball team relationships should bedemonstrated by business leaders? “When we didn’t playDain: In beach volleyball, just like in business, you need well or failed to execute,chemistry and you need a shared goal. Eric and I were we never pointedboth self-disciplined, and we were both selfless in pursuitof our goal. There were times I remember where he would fingers at each on fire and I wasn’t … and the other way round. But Instead, we both tookneither of us were the star of the team. When we didn’t responsibility.” 2
  3. 3. play well or failed to execute, we never pointed fingers at each other. Instead we bothtook responsibility. At no time did I ever have to worry about whether Eric would bringhis game. When the rules changed after Sydney and the court size changed, we bothhad to go in search of new partners who would be big “Shared goals andblockers. It was relatively easy to find people with the chemistry are vital inphysical characteristics and skills (6 foot 7 to 6 foot9, proven track record as a blocker), but it was harder business too. Leaders needfor us to find people with the right attitude and mental to look for and developcapacity. I think that shared goals and chemistry are people with the rightvital in business too. And leaders need to look for and attitudes, self–discipline,develop people with the right attitudes, self–discipline, and team mindedness.”and team mindedness.Forum: Arguably we all get better by failing, so we all need to fail to get better. Butwe only get better from failure if we can learn from it. How did you get better throughfailure? What’s the most counter-intuitive thing you have to do to learn from adversity?Dain: I was taught as a kid to learn from my errors. If anything breaks down or goeswrong I analyze it. In the lead up to Sydney, we were often in close games, especiallyagainst the Brazilians, but losing. They were beating us, but what was more importantwas we were making changes and preparing for the day when we would beat them. Sowe were preparing, and they were getting a little bit stagnant, a little bit complacent. Isaid earlier that people doubted we could beat the Brazilians in the Olympic Games thatyear. We kept our focus on learning, on analyzing any loss and making corrections. Andthat’s how we won gold. The counter-intuitive part is that people often tell you it’s notpossible right up until it is possible. You’ve got to keep believing in yourself, even whenyou’re failing—maybe especially when you are failing.Forum: There’s a path for every professional athlete: a rise and fall. Great sportsmenand women wax and wane. All the greats (you, Misty May-Treanor, Mo Farah, UsainBolt) have moved or will move on. But in business there’s a perception that leadersshould just “keep going” and “keep getting better.” How can/should leaders berealistic about their career prospects? What do organizations need to do to managethe inevitable rise and decline of individual performance?Dain: It’s so rare to know that you are the best in your profession. I had that moment inthe Olympics. Today, I often ask friends and colleagues in business what their numberis: what are they striving for, what keeps them pushing forward. Few people are satisfiedwith the answers they give. I think often people lose sight of any goal they might havehad. They get locked in.Recently I was chatting with a member of the audience after I had made a presentationto his corporation. He said, “You are so lucky to have followed your dream and to havepushed it to the limit. I’ve been with this organization for 20 years. In another 7 years Ican retire. But I’ve never really enjoyed it. It was never my dream.”It’s sad and tragic if others share that individual’s sentiment. They are missing out ontheir lives. If you want to be different, you have to do something different. I believe I wasdifferent, because I looked for and found the right thing. I knew what my dream was, Iset my goal, I loved what I did, and I kept believing in myself. That was true when I wasplaying beach volleyball. It’s now true in my career as a sports broadcaster. 3
  4. 4. From Gold Medals to Golden RulesForum: How do you deal with obstacles: the things that potentially could derail youfrom winning?Dain: I remember the semifinal game in the Olympics. We were in the final set and it was10 all. We then lost a point and at 10-11 we took a time out. As we came back on courtthe referee said we had taken too long; he docked a point and suddenly it was 10-12.That might have been the end, and I would have come “How you react (toaway saying, “The ref stole it from us!” But I didn’t want obstacles) will determinethat to be my story. You cannot control the obstacles butyou can control what you do about them. How you react your fate both in thewill determine your fate both in the short term and the short term and the longlong term. We won the next 5 points in succession, won term.”the game, and ultimately won gold. 4
  5. 5. Forum is a global professional services firm that mobilizespeople to embrace the critical strategies of their organizationand accelerate results. We help senior leaders with urgentstrategic agendas equip their organizations to perform,change and grow. Our expertise is built on decades oforiginal research; our business insight keeps companiesout ahead of their markets, competitors and customers.Harvard Business Press published Forum’s latest bookStrategic Speed in 2010. For more information,© 2012 The Forum Corporation. 5