Forty years ago, a 17 year old Russian gymnast, with a unique voice, took the world by storm and captured the hearts of millions. Her name, is Olga Korbut.

Olga, aka the Sparrow from Minsk, was a cute, loveable 4’11” 86 lb. Belarusian phenom athlete at the 1972 Olympics. A contortionist with wings, she dazzled the worldwide audience with a combo of technical, athletic, and charismatic moves. She went on to win three gold medals and a silver.

The “sparrow” soared with gutsy style and grace. She’s known for the “Korbut Flip” which is a back flip performed on both the uneven bars and balance beam. Olga says it took her 10 years to develop that heart stopping move. She also showed a different side to the more familiar unemotional robots of our Cold War counterparts in the U.S.S.R. Olga smiled and cried on the ABC telecast for all the world to see. We instantly fell in love with her and she adopted home court advantage.

Olga’s appeal was she provided a window into her soul and showed the world the color of her real feathers. She knew, and was comfortable with, her own voice. Her open and infectious personality blended countries together, at least for a moment, and made us feel as one.

“I showed the world what’s inside of me.” Olga Korbut

One of the five practices of exemplary leadership in The Leadership Challenge is Model the Way. As part of this practice, leaders must find their own voice. It’s part of the path to authenticity. Too many of those in leadership positions try to be something that they’re not. Their followers can’t be fooled.

As the leader, you’re always being watched and judged.

One day, Olga faltered during an uneven bars performance and she cried openly with disappointment for everyone to see. The next day, she performed the same routine and earned a score of 9.8 and won the gold. The crowd began to scream insults, stamp their feet, and yell vulgarities at the judges deeming the score was too low. She owned the spectators hearts. Why? She was simply being herself. Everyone admires and starves for authenticity.

When a leader finds their voice, and openly shows who they are, their players will run through a brick wall for them.

Was there a time when you really showed your voice? What happened?

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