About a week ago I had the honor and privilege of interviewing Bethany Hamilton in front of over 2,000 people at the “Think Big!” event at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Bethany’s incredible story has inspired millions around the world, as she overcame losing her left arm in a 2003 shark attack to go on to become one of the most successful athletes ever in the sport of surfing.
In spending time with Bethany, her husband Adam, and her son Tobias before, during, and after the event, one thing is clear—Bethany is a great leader and role model we can all learn from. Every opportunity is a chance to learn something new, and I believe Bethany’s story, her demeanor, and her character all present leadership qualities we can learn from and emulate.
Specifically, here are 4 leadership lessons we can learn from Bethany Hamilton:
1. She’s herself
As I got to know Bethany it became very clear she is real and genuine. What you see is what you get. She knows who she is and she lives it—from taking the stage in a casual, cotton dress, to simply telling her story—raw and unfiltered—Bethany is comfortable in her own skin. Authentic leaders know who they are and who they aren’t, and they aren’t afraid to be themselves.
2. She’s humble
Bethany had a natural way, on and off the stage, of moving the focus to others. Everyone was there to hear from her, but she was quick to recognize the contributions of her parents, her husband, her siblings, her youth pastor, and many more key mentors who shaped the woman she is today. Great leaders know there is no self-made man or woman, and they exhibit humble gratitude for those who invested in their life.
3. She’s helpful
There were several young amputees at the event who, like Bethany, experienced the painful, difficult loss of a limb. You would’ve thought Bethany had known each of them for years! She took a genuine interest in each of them, spent personal time talking 1-on-1 with each of them, and gave them some memorabilia to take as a keepsake. And she takes this work even further through her non-profit, Friends of Bethany. Leaders understand a key principle: If you want to be valuable, add value to others.
4. She’s happy
Bethany seems content and happy with her lot in life. She’s a new mom, she’s working on a big film project called Surf’s Like a Girl, and she’s on a speaking tour…but it seems that if it all went away, she’d still be secure in her faith and in her family. She’s working hard and she’s hungry for more…but not so much that it consumes her with blind ambition. Great leaders have a capacity about them to enjoy the journey as they pursue their goals.
Bethany, thank you for the key qualities of leadership you embody! May all we go and live likewise!