Christie has worn the green-and-gold for Australia in 3 different sports – Trampolining, CrossFit and now Beach Volleyball. She has multiple international gold medals, been ranked in the top ten in the world, competed in every continent, and been the Australian champion for 15 years. After earning dux of her school and completing an Economics / Chinese double degree Christie went on to secure the only strategy graduate role at ANZ from a field of thousands. She worked in strategy and management consulting roles for ANZ, CBA and now as a freelance consultant across multiple industries. In addition to freelance consulting Christie is also an experienced public speaker and writer on the psychology of high performance. She shares how to develop the elite mind-set required of top athletes with business leaders. www.christiejenkins.com.au
What were the earliest challenges balancing academic work and an elite level sporting career?
At ten years old I would complain to my parents that ‘I don’t want to go on holidays because I’ll miss training’. I was obsessed with sport and not willing to give it up for something as mundane as school work. Fortunately, the workload in sport and academics grows gradually. At ten I trained three times per week and had just a few homework assignments – easy to juggle. By the time I was in year 12 I trained 7 times per week. At university, I had an overloaded class schedule, 11 training sessions per week and two part time jobs. When I got my first real job I worked full time and trained every day before and after work – things certainly got hectic. I had to learn over time how to prioritise what was important, what learning style worked best for me, and how to be ridiculously efficient. Athletes develop the ability for intense focus so I took that and applied it to my studies and work.
Who were your role models / mentors in your early career and today?
One of my first managers – Antony Strong – terrified me at first. He is one of those ridiculously competent people with off-the-charts intelligence. You’d bring your work to him and he’d ask ‘so what’ again and again while you sweated out what you thought were the answers. As a new graduate he also asked for my 10 year career plan (in PowerPoint no less!) but he instilled in me the high-quality level of thinking that has been the foundation for much of my career success.
Nowadays I’m inspired by two categories of people – those who are at the top of their field and remain there consistently, and those who change the way the game is played. Recognisable names are people like Roger Federer in tennis, Kerri Walsh-Jennings in beach volleyball, Jack Welch in business, Paul Tudor-Jones and Warren Buffett in investing. They are all consistently the best in the world at what they do. People I admire who have changed the game include Tony Robbins who basically put the field of personal development on the map, Tim Ferriss who created this concept of ‘lifestyle design’, and of course Elon Musk who is leading humanity into new areas.
Who have been your most memorable coaches or managers and why?
I’ve had so many incredible coaches and managers that I’ve admired and learnt from – too many to name individually. They stand out for their contribution. I know they have sincerely wanted me to become better and they have done everything in their power to help me reach my goals. For me the coach-athlete or mentor-student relationship is sacred, and the most fulfilling way to learn, so I seek out amazing coaches and spend as much time with them as I can. I’ve also had some memorably bad coaches too – they are essential for learning what you won’t settle for. I’ve had a coach unfairly kick me out of the AIS program, another tell me I have ‘no potential and will never be close to the best in the world’ and a manager who tried to refuse to give me leave to compete at World Championships. The biggest evolution in my thinking has been to see myself as the centre, and my coach, manager, and other specialists as being ‘hired’ into my team to support me. Ultimately you are responsible for your own performance and it’s up to you to consciously choose who you think will best support you to get there. As an athlete, I choose my sports coach, my mental coach, chiropractor, myotherapist and so on. In my career, I choose who I want to work for (hopefully they want me to work for them too), who my mentors are, who you look to for specific skill development etc.
How did you find balancing a role in Internal consulting at ANZ and CBA with your training and sporting commitments?
I’ve run the gamut between understanding and rigid managers. As a uni student I walked into my first interview at ANZ and declared that one of the main reasons I applied for the company was their flexible leave policy! They not only hired me and gave me 8 weeks of leave per year, they also rearranged the graduate program so that I could do roles with more reasonable hours. Later on, my manager at ANZ let me transition to a 4 day work week, and at CBA they let me take 3 months of unpaid leave when I received an opportunity to train at the AIS. They have been fantastic companies to work for.
On the other hand, I had one manager accuse me of loving my sport more than my job, and claim I wasn’t working enough hours. While we’ve come a long way in Australian corporates regarding seeing a family as just as important as your career, there isn’t always the same understanding when you are pursuing a dream other than a family. I replied to him ‘of course I love my sport more – just like you love your kids more – but that has zero bearing on the quality of my work. And if I finish the job in less hours than someone else, isn’t that a good thing?’ Probably not the smartest way to stay on that particular manager’s good side! Now that I’m competing internationally for beach volleyball I’ve left full time work in favour of doing freelance consulting projects – I get to keep a career I love but can fit it in more easily during my off-season and quiet periods in sport.
What parallels do you see between people that are successful in sport and business?
So many parallels that I started my own business speaking about them! A few of the key qualities displayed by the top business leaders and the top athletes are a willingness to constantly learn and seek feedback from a wide variety of sources, the ability to focus intensely, resiliency to bounce back after failure, incredibly strong belief in the face of doubters and competitors, and a love of the process as well as the outcomes of what you are doing. Most importantly successful individuals take 100% accountability for their own or their team’s performance.
What do you think business and leaders can learn from sport?
The biggest learning opportunity I see is in the coach-athlete dynamic. As an athlete, I have a huge amount of trust for my coach and would do anything they asked of me. It’s rare to see that same dynamic between a business leader and their employees. Why is that? It’s certainly not a matter of time since people spend more time at work than athletes do on the sporting field.
I believe the difference is in a few things:
The commitment to a shared purpose or goal. The purpose of a business unit often gets lost in flowery language and the day-to-day operations. When this happens we tend to revert back to our own individual goals instead.
The knowledge that the coach or leader has the athlete’s best interests as their first priority. In sport my success is my coach’s success, but in business the link is less clear. Tie your KPIs together.
The way feedback is given and received. Athletes get feedback daily, not in an annual performance review. And the feedback is not evaluation against peers, it’s information to help you improve. We don’t see enough of this in organisations.
The frequency in which you say thank you. The first thing an athlete does when they win is thank their coach – but how often do we thank our manager when we get a win at work? I thank my coach for something specific after every single training session. When was the last time you thanked your manager as you walked out the door, or they thanked you for your efforts that day?
Who do you think are standout performers in Australian Business and Sport and why?
In Australia we definitely bat above our weight in terms of standout performers. A couple of entrepreneurs I love are Naomi Simpson (founder of Red Balloon) and Janine Allis (founder of Boost) – not only because they are fantastic female role models but because they brought both creativity and passion to the market in a unique way. Watching Cathy Freeman light the Olympic flame and then win the 400m race at the Sydney Olympics goes down as one of the most inspiring memories of my life. It is not easy to stand with grace and confidence with the eyes of the nation on you, and it is even more difficult to race the best performance of your life under that much pressure. She did more for the recognition of Aboriginal people in one week than anyone else in history.
What achievement are you proudest of and what are your goals for the next 3 to 5 years?
There is absolutely nothing on earth like the feeling of standing atop a podium and hearing your national anthem play. But it’s also the nature of an athlete to hoist the trophy aloft and already be thinking about what’s next – we don’t tend to dwell on past achievements much. What I’m proudest of is my ability to be successful across multiple years, and multiple domains. This year I hit a big milestone for me which was to have been the best in Australia in 3 different sports. As for what’s next… top of the goal list is definitely the Tokyo 2020 Olympics – see you there!