3 Career Lessons We Can Learn From Serena Williams

This weekend, Serena Williams was fined $17,000 during a controversial outburst. After calls from the umpire that Williams felt were unfair, she received code violations for calling him a “liar” and a “thief.” Although CNN Sports, Time Magazine, and People published pieces about equality in tennis, there’s another important lesson here: What do you do when something goes wrong on the court or at work? What’s the best way to handle a situation when you feel something’s not fair? Here are 3 career lessons we can learn from Serena; what we can emulate and what we should avoid:

Make Your Voice Heard

Serena was bold and ready to fight for what she felt was right.  In this case- expressing her voice may have paid off. Here’s what happened: The umpire, Carlos Ramos, ruled that Williams received coaching earlier in the set, violating a strict “no coaching” rule in Grand Slam tennis. As the call was made, Serena approached the umpire’s chair to say she would rather lose than “cheat to win.” Two more violations occurred when Serena broke her racket and called the umpire a “thief,” which led to the automatic loss of the game. However, Serena didn’t back down.

“The fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and that want to express themselves,” Serena said. “They’re going to be allowed to do that because of today. Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.”

The United States Tennis Association is reevaluating its policies to institute change and promote consistency in its rules. What’s the lesson in terms of your career? Make your voice heard. Serena teaches us to advocate for our opinions and stand up for what we believe in.

Keep Your Poise

Despite the importance of speaking your mind, be careful not to lose control. When your boss criticizes your project or presentation, your reaction should be poised and professional. Even if (like in Serena’s case), you think your boss is in the wrong, remain calm. Emotionally charged conversations can allow things to get out of hand quickly. For instance, (metaphorically) breaking your racket and yelling at your boss is not the answer. If Serena kept her racket intact, she may have won the match. Emotions are okay, but be sure to present them in a professional way.

Own It

Although Serena let things get out of hand, she took responsibility for her actions without changing her stance on what she believes in.

While a different reaction to the umpire’s call could have led to a different result, Serena stands by her words. She owned what she said because it’s what she believes in, and rather than denying her actions, she defends them. 

“I can’t sit here and say I wouldn’t say he’s a thief, because I thought he took the game from me…I’m here fighting to be an example for the next person,” Serena said. 

In the workplace, strong professionals should be like Serena. While it’s important to be respectful, professional and use your best judgement, it’s also important to make your voice heard. Instead of rolling over, shout from the rooftops what you believe in, be bold and fight for what’s right. 

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