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Olympic gold medalist empowers business students to take on professional leadership roles

Tuesday, November 22 2016 12:00am

OHIO Head Swimming and Diving Coach and 2004 Olympic gold medalist Rachel Komisarz-Baugh discusses empowerment techniques with Strategic Leadership and Management students.

Tags: Management

By Holly Moody

In 2004, Olympian Rachel Komisarz-Baugh empowered her mind and body to swim towards claiming the honor of an Olympic gold and silver medal while representing the United States on the world stage. Today, Komisarz-Baugh now utilizes her success, teachings and journey as an Olympian to empower not only the OHIO Swimming and Diving team but aspiring business professionals.

“Empowerment is about that internal drive to get people to do what they are capable of doing,” said Komisarz-Baugh. Throughout my career I never thought growing up that I was going to be an Olympian. The Olympics taught me that I can do whatever I put my mind to.”

Ohio University College of Business students had the chance to hear from Komisarz-Baugh during adjunct professor of Management and Strategic Leadership, Kim Jordan’s Strategic Leadership Onboarding class to add perspective on their classroom exercises which focus on learning the techniques of an effective leader through self-discovery. Komisarz-Baugh’s talk focused specifically on empowerment strategies and her experience building the OHIO Swimming and Diving team.

“Part of this class is talking about being an authentic leader and empowerment,” said Jordan. “Rachel has an authenticity about herself that comes through whether she is talking with her team or aspiring business professionals, which makes her approachable.”

 Komisarz-Baugh leads the OHIO Swimming and Diving team as one of only 40 female coaches out of approximately 600 Division I swimming and diving programs in the United States.

 With an impressive career list of accolades including five years of successful coaching experience at the University of Louisville, 11 international titles, and two Olympic medals under her belt, Baugh came into her position as the head swimming and diving coach for OHIO with a vision to not only become a nationally ranked program, but to unify her team and build athletes that are prepared for life after college.

 “I have a saying that my goal here is not to just develop athletes to be better athletes, but to be better people,” said Komisarz-Baugh. As the coach of a women’s program, I want to build strong and independent women that are going to be successful after their time in the pool is over.”

 Komisarz-Baugh focuses on empowering her team and leaving them with the skills to empower others by making them accountable for achieving their team goals. Every season Komisarz-Baugh takes her team on a retreat at Strouds Run in Athens and tasks them with setting team policies and goals that they want to work towards during the season.

 “I leave this up to my team and I am not a part of this process,” said Komisarz-Baugh. “They go, they brainstorm, bring it back to me and present. Now they take ownership of their policies, their goals and how they are going to reach them.”

 During her time as an athlete, Komisarz-Baugh was empowered by having input into her development and training. Through adopting this technique of giving the team control of their goals and development, her team has grown to hold one another accountable for their progress and support each other through wins and losses.

This sense of accountability by being responsible for your own goal is what keeps the OHIO Swimming and Diving team motivated to achieving their vision of being a nationally ranked team.

Komisarz-Baugh’s hope is that this technique will also enable them to motivate and lead their future teams as they venture into their professional careers.

“One of the big things is to ask for input,” said Jordan. “This is so liberating in the workplace. People are driven by having the freedom to create things and make them come to life. Bringing others into the process and giving them the freedom, that is how you get your team to buy in and do the work to reach those goals.”

Jordan’s class facilitates students to discover more about themselves, explore qualities that enable them to be effective leaders to a team and individually, and to practice skills in a safe environment. Jordan emphasizes reflection, deliberate practice, and greater self-awareness to first lead one’s self and then others.

“In the business world, you are going to be working with teams and different personalities,” said Komisarz-Baugh. “It’s important to know how to empower your team and identify what motivates each person individually.”

The OHIO Swimming and Diving team continues to grow and strengthen through Komisarz-Baugh’s empowerment strategies and passion for seeing her athletes succeed beyond the pool as strong leaders.

“Athletics and a career in the business world have so many similarities,” said Komisarz-Baugh.  “What they learn here in college and being a part of this team as far as working with others and motivation can be carried on into their professional lives.”

Professor Jordan looks forward to having Komisarz-Baugh join her class again next year to highlight her experience and growth as an effective leader and skills that transfer to a business setting.

“It was great to have her as an example and a breath of real-world, high level achievement,” said Jordan. “I also wanted to bring some recognition to the successful and empowering people that we have available to our Bobcats.”