Sarah Robb O’Hagan—the new CEO of Flywheel Sports– has been named among Forbes “Most Powerful Women in Sports” and recognized as one of Fast Company’s “Most Creative People in Business.” But if you ask her, Sarah will say she’s in business to help individuals and teams achieve their potential. Her career includes leadership roles at Virgin, Nike, Gatorade and Equinox. As Global President of Gatorade, she helped transform the company from a declining sports drink into a sports performance innovation company, and at Nike she was a key member of the team that launched the game changing innovation called Nike Plus in collaboration with Apple. In my conversation with Sarah, she shares how she turned crushing failure into epic wins, how to get comfortable taking risks, and how she’s been able to spark innovation and change inside of some pretty incredible companies. Her new book, “Extreme You: Step Up. Stand Out. Kick Ass. Repeat” is out now.
On deciding to say yes when Flywheel approached her
One of the important beliefs that I articulate in the book is that you should break yourself to make yourself– really get out of your comfort zone to drive your own performance. So I was trying to walk my own talk by quitting my job and going and exploring and writing a book. I felt like I really needed to throw myself fully into it. I had no intent of re-entering a full time role until after the book had come out, but along came the Flywheel opportunity. What was so funny was that the act of writing the book had given me so much time to reflect and to be inspired by the wonderful stories of others and to think about what I wanted for my life and give me these really strong filters to help me make my own decisions. And along comes the perfect opportunity!
On her leadership style
I bring a lot of enthusiasm and passion for what I’m doing. People always describe me as a very high-energy leader. I definitely strive for high goals and standards, but I really believe in making the team flourish and discover their own potential along the way. I see my role more as helping fan the flames of the awesome stuff they are doing.
On her vision for Flywheel
What’s really neat is that we are part of this big, booming boutique fitness phenomenon. It’s a little bit like how in the nineties, we all used to shop in department stores and then we shifted to boutique specialized experiences. It’s very similar to what’s happening in the fitness industry. We are at the very beginning of what we have the potential to be. Obviously we are going to continue to expand our studio offerings, but we’ll never get every tiny street corner in America. So we are actively exploring ways to effectively take our studio experience and stream it so that people can access it wherever they may be. Consumers are looking for fitness on the go– whenever I want it and however I want it, but getting that really brilliant studio experience too.
On how Nike creates a culture of innovation
The difference in the way Nike thinks about innovation is pretty profound. One of the things I learned and loved so much about Nike is that just as things are going really great with that business is when they disrupt themselves and get uncomfortable. They don’t wait for other businesses to do it to them. It’s a great lesson for businesses everywhere. If you don’t stay on top of your own growth and push yourself out of your comfort zone both as a leader and as a company, you better watch out for who’s going to come do it to you.
On leading the brand transformation at Gatorade
It was the most grueling work assignment of my career. It’s a 5 billion dollar business that right after the recession started declining. When you’re up against that, you have a couple of choices. You can either try to be on defense and hope things get better, or you can play a very aggressive transformation game, which is what we chose to do. You have to be bold and swing hard if you’re going to drive the kind of change that leads to a turnaround.
On her new book, Extreme You: Step Up. Stand Out. Kick Ass. Repeat.
The repeat part is actually the most important part. One of the coolest things we learned is that you think when these extraordinary people get to the top of their game that they have achieved it; they’re done. But the repeat part is that no, they start over. They challenge themselves again. Success is a journey not a destination.
On climbing mountains (no, not literally)
I open the book with the quote: “It’s not the mountain we conquer; but ourselves.” I’m a proud Kiwi and the quote came from Sir Edmund Hillary who is a New Zealander and the first man in the world to summit Mount Everest. I found myself loving these mountain climbing analogies throughout the book. I learned as I was going along that that’s the book I was writing. It was about how do you get to the summit of your own future? It’s actually about learning to develop yourself and really understand who you are at your finest.
On reaching the peak and discovering there’s more to climb
We call it the extremist cycle. Once you get to the top of the mountain, you generally have the vantage point that there’s a bigger mountain range behind it that you couldn’t see before. So you have to start over.
On risk taking
My coach has this saying: Don’t worry so much about did you make the right decision? Worry more about making the decisions right. It’s such a great way of thinking about risk. We can all talk ourselves out of taking risks, but if you just go for it and put all of your energy not into worrying but making that decision work for you, you’ll be fine.
On failure being essential to growth
One of the reasons I wrote the book was I felt that when I look at the younger generation coming into the workforce, it just really bothered me that 1) there is this culture of perfection everywhere and this expectation that people had to have perfect resumes and 2) couple that with social media- we all have these perfect pictures on our Instagram and everything looks amazing. It gives a younger person the belief that everyone is crushing it, why am I not? Even if you Googled me a few years ago, all it said was these great accolades of achievement. It didn’t mention that I got fired twice, and I screwed up so many things along the way. I felt it was so important to change that narrative and have everyone understand that failure is such a necessary part of growth. It’s not something to be stigmatized or to be scared of.
On what it means to be a game changer
It’s someone who deeply understands their own strengths and then figures out how to play the game to their own strengths on their own terms. Play your own game. When you look at the world through the lens of what your greatest strengths are, that is often where new thinking, new innovation, new ideas come from. That’s ultimately what a game changer is.
Molly Fletcher helps inspire and equip game changers to dream, live and grow fearlessly. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working with elite athletes and coaches as a sports agent, and applies them to the business world. Her new book, Fearless At Work, is now available. Sign up here to receive our monthly newsletter.