Coming face to face with your hero as peer is an intimidating experience. As Naomi Osaka faced down the iconic tennis champion Serena Williams, the 2018 US Open was a metaphor for what it means to emerge and rise up as a leader. While the match may be remembered for Williams's standing up for herself and arguing with the umpire, let's also remember Osaka's skillful playing.  

She's got game.

Here is a quick take on what Osaka's tennis match shows us about emerging as a leader.

1. Have Technique

At the end of the day, you must be excellent at your craft. When you're exhausted, emotional, and pulled in every direction, your technique and mastery of skill must override all else so that you make sound judgment. While passion may be the catalyst for your leadership, technique will sustain you.  

2. Overcome Imposter's Syndrome

Clearly, Osaka was full of emotion even in the midst of her win. Her initial confusion over whom the crowd's boos were for was heartbreaking. And in that moment on the dais when she hesitated to raise the trophy high above her head, I thought, "I hope she knows with every fiber in her being that she deserves that trophy!" In truth, sometimes insecurity lingers and self-assurance comes late for us. While struggling with impostor syndrome can be normal at the early stages of leading, we must be assured of our victories, small and large, and claim our place at the table.

3. Focus; Wait and See

The undeterred focus that Osaka had was directly connected to her mature ability to take in the full landscape of what she faced. In one interview, when she reflected on the match, Osaka commented that she decided to "just wait and see" what Williams would do at various points. This is so relevant in leadership, in which decisive action must be preceded by keen observation. This helps us play the long game.

4. Be Humble

Even in the aftermath of the match, Osaka's respect for Williams was apparent. Her ability to humble herself to the process, to her opponent, and to her growing fame was even more striking. Humility in leadership translates into people who have a growth mindset and are always open to what they can learn next. Humility is the bedrock for servant leadership, and allows you to show up to your work with fresh eyes.  


Whether or not you are a tennis fan, Osaka shows us that our teachers can be found in any arena and can be people of any age -- as long as we ourselves remain open to the lessons.