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Pentathlete Kelly Fitzsimmons | Zombies, pedestals and the path to leadership

  • Communications
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  • Mar 9, 2015
Pentathlete Kelly Fitzsimmons | Zombies, pedestals and the path to leadership

Canadian Pentathlete Kelly Fitzsimmons spoke about the path to leadership at the Ivey - Haskayne Leadership Case Competition

Never mind that the pentathlete was Aristotle’s idea of the perfect athlete. It’s all about who you want beside you when the zombies show up.

The ancient Greek sport was designed for Spartan warriors and has undergone a number of changes since then. Now Canadian Pentathlete Kelly Fitzsimmons and her fellow athletes undertake fencing, swimming, riding an unknown horse over a show jumping course and a combined running and shooting race all in one day. 

“In reality, we are the athletes who are trained to protect each and every one of you in the event of the inevitable zombie apocalypse,” said Fitzsimmons, who brought her viewpoint as an athlete into the world of leadership as one of the keynote speakers at the inaugural Leadership Case Competition held by Ivey in partnership with the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business.

“One of the reasons we put leaders on a pedestal is because we tend to put them there for perfection. Leaders are important to us because they give us a model to strive for,” said Fitzsimmons, whose personal heroes included Canadian Olympic Swimmer Mark Tewksbury.

Athletes and leaders are placed on the pedestal because our focus is on winning and perfection. But very often, the most meaningful experiences come from the journey.

“The full story of leadership is deeper and more complex than the end result. It is about an intimate understanding of both yourself and the environment,” she said.

Fitzsimmons fought her way back from a serious back injury after falling off a horse during training. Her own fears and experiences during rehabilitation taught her other important leader characteristics, such as empathy.

“One reason why empathy is a strong characteristic in leaders is because every leader has been in some situation where they didn’t know if they could make it out. But they did. I don’t believe there is any such thing as a perfect leader – just a person who has been through the ringer, adapted, found a reason to smile, laugh, and make it better for the next person.”

She encouraged students to see leadership as a process, and, like an athlete, learn to embody the values and behaviours that are important to being a leader and then, like a coach, share them with others.