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layne beachley

In the Mind of the CEO: Layne Beachley, Founder and Director, Aim for the Stars

World Champion Surfer and Chair of Surfing Australia shares leadership lessons

layne beachley
Seven times world champion surfer, Surfing Australia Chair, and motivational speaker Layne Beachley, OA, has been a leader and a role model since she was a teenager. 

So it's no surprise the founder and Director of the foundation Aim for the Stars, which provides financial and mentoring support to aspiring women, has given the subject of leadership a lot of thought.   

Here, lessons out of our interview with Layne (now live at On Demand), where she shares the secrets of her success, her darkest moments, why she’s a fan of Brené Brown, and how she became good at saying no.

Sustainable success starts with having a really clear, articulated vision.  (At a young age) I declared to the world I wanted to be a world champion surfer. Anyone who’s with me – great; support me, nurture me, teach me. Goodbye if you're not. 

I was a role model at a very early age, around 17 or 18 years of age. People were looking up to me because there was no grey area with me. Still isn’t. I was very values driven, very principled.  

I needed to be conscious of my words, and stand for something. If you don’t stand for something you fall for everything.

My current set of values are:

  1. My health and wellbeing. Dr John Demartini said your values emanate from voids. This value emanates from me compromising my health during my professional surfing career and into retirement – from chronic fatigue to depression to incredible series injuries to life threatening injuries, to pneumonia….I’ve learned to prioritise my health.
  2. Giving back. I’ve been through it all. So it’s a matter of sharing that knowledge and experience with everyone else, through my foundation Aim for the Stars, as a mentor, and as chair of Surfing Australia.
  3. Authenticity. I gravitate to people who speak authentically. I just love (Daring Greatly author) Brené Brown’s work. Reading her work, you say “Oh yes, that’s me.”

In her latest book Dare to Lead, Brené Brown describes four skill sets leaders will need in the future:

  1. Rumbling with Vulnerability. I’ve done that my whole life and I’m still learning to do that.
  2. Living into your values. Something I’ve done subconsciously, and now very consciously, throughout my whole life.
  3. Braving Trust. Being able to trust in yourself, trust in your instinct, trust in your ability.
  4. Knowing when to reset. Knowing when to rest, step back, allow other people to do the work. When you’ve pushed yourself too far, knowing when to stop and just re-calibrate, gather your thoughts and then move forward again.

My commitment every day is to work on becoming a better leader, a better human being, a more vulnerable, more open, more accessible person, in my own personal relationships and my professional work as well. We always teach what we need to learn ourselves.

What I’m focusing on is getting the job done. I tend to resort back to that word FOCUS because it stands for Follow One Course Until Successful.

I’m good at saying no. I struggled with it for many years, especially into retirement. As an adoptee, I have a massive fear of rejection, which starts with not wanting to let anybody down. My mentor taught me when an opportunity is presented to you, you look at it, and you FEEL it, and ask yourself Does this opportunity light me up? Does it fill me with a sense of curiosity? Does it excite me? If it does, hell yeah, I’m involved.

If it’s a shoulda, woulda, coulda, then it’a a hell no. You have to find ways and words to let people down. I have to start by knowing that if I’m saying yes to somebody, I’m not saying no to myself.

I came close to quitting in the year before I won my first world title. My trainer asked me “What’s it going to take to become world champion?” I said “100% effort, 100% commitment, 100% action.” He said how much are you giving it right now? I thought 65%, but I said aloud “70%.” He said, well you can get out of your own way and give 100% commitment, or you can give it away and regret it for the rest of your life.

It’s amazing how many stories, reasons and excuses we give ourselves to hang our hooks on our current beliefs. My belief at that time was that it was all too hard, so I was constantly seeking evidence of the fact.

The second time I lost my mojo was in the year I was claiming my sixth consecutive world title. Once again, I got out of my own way. I relied on movies, books, life coaches, mentors to do it.

Layne's GREAT EIGHT, answers to eight getting-to-know-you questions we ask all our interviewees. 

Recommended book: The Courage to be Disliked, by Ichiro Kishimi.

If you could co-author a book with anyone, who would they be and what’s the book title? Brené Brown, and also with Eckhart Tolle. I want to title a book called Get Over Yourself.

Best piece of advice. Get over yourself and Never leave surf to find surf. We surfers always get to the beach and think it could be better around the corner. Just deal with what you’ve got in front of you. Also, learn to say thank you.

What’s been your lowest moment? When I got chronic fatigue syndrome the second time. I was in, what Dr John Demartini refers to as, the A, B, C, Ds of negativity: Anger, Blame, Criticism, Despair. And, ultimately, a state of depression. Every day I woke up thinking of different ways to end my own life, and that was a pretty dark uncomfortable, restless place.

How did you recover? The way I overcame it was: 1. I accepted the fact I was unwell. I stopped putting on the façade that everything was okay. 2. I had the courage and the vulnerability to put my hand up and say “I need help.” Everyone knew I was unwell, it just came down to me accepting it. And then I was able to take action from there.

How do you relax? I surf, every day.

What is the secret of success? I don’t think there’s a secret because there are different ways of achieving it. I achieved sustainable success in a very unsustainable way. My first six world titles were won in a state of fear, my seventh was won in a state of love and grace and gratitude. Have a clear vision. Be discerning in the people you include in your dream team. Monitor your actions on a daily basis. 

Prediction for 2025? I will have two books out. I want to see a more empathetic human race, I think we’ve become so detached from each other. We need to evolve as human beings.

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