She’s Doing It: Racing Champion Robyn Benincasa’s Leadership Essentials

by Gloria Feldt on July 18th, 2012
in Define Your Own Terms, Inspiration, Leadership, Power Tools, She's Doing It and tagged , , , , ,

Today’s She’s Doing It features a guest post from Robyn Benincasa,  a two-time Adventure Racing World Champion, Guinness World Record distance kayaker, full-time fire fighter, author of How Winning Works, and leadership expert.

After fighting back from crippling osteoarthritis hip surgery at age 41, she is launching Project Athena, a non-profit that encourages women who’ve endured life-altering medical set-backs to try athletic pursuits they have always dreamed of doing.  The project pays their expenses and provides coaching and equipment for whatever sport you decide to try.  It is a survivor helping survivors project with the goal of women helping women.

Here, Robyn shares what she’s learned about how to take a team from ordinary to extraordinary, her analysis of leadership styles, and how to change and/or use them effectively in business.

When we are faced with a challenge, whether it’s in sports, academic, business or relationships, many of us operate out of fear of failure.

We focus our attention and efforts on not falling short, on trying to stay just one step ahead. But the greatest team builders think differently. Sure, they are cognizant of the possibility of failure, and they prepare to deal with the things that go sideways, but their main focus is on doing what it takes to win versus simply not lose.

For Maximum Performance, Hope is a better place than Fear

When a team member gives up hope and says “it’s over. There is no way out for us,” brainstorming is shut down and entropy takes over our souls. That’s not to say we shouldn’t master the tactical agility to make a U-turn whenever necessary because that’s an important skill. But the best team builders can even position a U-Turn in a positive light, as merely a new set of challenges.

Tap into Human Synergy

Human Synergy is that magic that makes us better together than any of us could ever be alone.  It says that we are better stronger, faster, more productive, and more successful BECAUSE of one another versus DESPITE one another.  Having teammates around you is not incidental to your success, it’s instrumental to your success, whether you are striving for a team goal or a personal one.

Seek to Understand First—and to be Understood SecondBook: How Winning Works

It’s an important life skill.

We are all very much in our own heads most of the day, working out problems, working on goals, on a mission…so when we interact with others on our day’s journey, it’s important to realize that the other person may have a completely different goal, agenda, recent experience from where they are approaching the situation.

The Job of a Manager is to Create other Leaders

A manager is a facilitator of their teammates’ success.  That is a constant.  The manager on a team never changes.  But a great manager will allow different leaders on the team to emerge based on their strengths and what they can bring to the table.  Leaders on great teams change constantly—it builds ownership and an entrepreneurial spirit, which are two very strong motivators that inspire a whatever it takes mentality when it comes to goals.  Great managers don’t hold the leadership role with an iron fist or feel threatened if someone else is leading.

Accept and Embrace Adversity as a Chance to Learn and Excel

“Your racing career is over. You’re never going to run again” were the words from my orthopedic surgeon at age 40, after over 10 years of winning extreme global races. Recovering again after 2 hip replacements twice,  I realized one of my favorite parts of adventure racing was the paddling competition. Which led to my 2 Guinness world records in kayak paddling (lake and river) and my new goal for a third in open water (ocean) in September 2012.

See Challenges versus Roadblocks

The most important things is to start with the right mindset and attitude. Reassuring and encouraging others is what world class team builders do.

Utilize Life Skills in Other Platforms

Recovering from hip surgery #1, the idea came to me to establish the Project Athena Foundation.  Project Athena is a 501c3 non-profit that helps cancer survivors live an adventurous dream as part of their recovery.  Today, by raising funds and heading the expeditions, I help survivors trek across the Grand Canyon or run their first half marathon. This kind of success allows these courageous women to amaze and inspire themSELVES again and face life challenges head on.

Most Important Leadership Skill

When to inspire, when to instill tough love, when to coach, when to lay down the law, when to get out front and show your team the way, or when to let them lead…and even when to cut bait.

Follow Your Passion and Make it a Reality

This is not a cliche. Being one of a handful of female firefighters allows me to be all of the things I love the most–an athlete, a rescuer, an emergency medical first responder, a teammate, and an adventurer.  It’s never the same day twice!


Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

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