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Winning the Long Game with Sébastien Sasseville

Joining us for this week’s Virtual Speaker Series session, Sébastien Sasseville drew insightful parallels between his experiences as an endurance athlete and the overlapping skills he’s discovered that equally apply to long-term business success as they do to athletic pursuits. Whether in a leadership role, working as part of a smaller team in a larger organization, or just getting started as an entrepreneur, Sébastien’s presentation offered broadly useful ideas to keep in mind.

Sébastien’s talk began, understandably enough, at the starting line. When we are at the beginning of any undertaking, whether it’s planning to reach the summit of Mount Everest (as he did in 2008) or start work on a new project, Sébastien said it’s always difficult. However, he said, it’s equally important to remember not to become “obsessed with the summit and not the climb.” It’s too easy to focus on the ideal end goal and become overwhelmed. Sébastien said instead we should turn to the “why” of the journey as the ultimate fuel for our ambitions and goals. Having purpose keeps the ego at bay, he said, and purpose is a key part of narrative and culture in a business. As Sébastien sees it, company culture is the immune system of an organization. The culture we create (driven by the narrative of our goals) is how we manage upsets, upheavals, and emergencies. Obviously, that’s more important than ever at this moment and Sébastien underlined the importance of keeping this mind when setting out to accomplish new goals.

To better understand what culture in an organization really means, Sébastien defined it as action, mindset, and behaviour among the team. He said that if we want to have long-term success, we need to make sure these elements are aligned and coherent with our larger goals (which are often static) and also our environment (which can shift).  This mix of preparation and flexibility has been very present in all of Sébastien’s athletic feats, and he said it’s helpful to consider organizational goals in the same way. To have a clear plan of what you want to achieve, map out the steps needed to reach your goals, but also layer in redundancies and back-up plans in the case of unexpected outcomes or roadblocks.  Sébastien said we should all become familiar with the differences between danger and discomfort. Discomfort is doing something new, taking on new challenges. Danger is a situation where plans can be completely derailed or undone. He said that good leaders assess danger it, accept it as part of the road to success, and retreat when necessary to adjust or recover.

While they may not seem directly related, Sébastien said that agility and preparation go hand in hand. Agility in business is how we capitalize on opportunity while also avoiding pitfalls. To give ourselves the best chance to be agile he said, we must do our homework a.k.a. be prepared. Part of that preparation for long-term success is ensuring healthy and open lines of communication with everyone in an organization. With the coronavirus pandemic ongoing, communication is one of the biggest challenges facing any team right now, Sébastien said.

As we do find success, Sébastien said a new challenge that arises comes in the form of involuntary complacency. He said it’s absolutely normal for us to get comfortable when we find something that works. In business, as on the mountain, this is dangerous. Sébastien said it’s useful to push yourself to become more comfortable with making counter-intuitive actions. Try to override the feeling of “corporate nostalgia” for approaches and systems that worked in the past. Understand that our roles, as an organization in a business landscape and as a team member in an organization, are always evolving. This dovetails with the importance of open and healthy communication so that everyone can stay on the same page and working toward the same goals.

Having established the approach and tools we can put in place to start working towards winning the long game, Sébastien moved on to the important idea of pacing ourselves. Having participated in many long-distance endurance events, approaching challenges with a proper pace is a key part of his accomplishments—running across Canada over the course of nine months, for example. Sébastien noted that as people we should all understand that we are flexible but within limits. However, those limits can change from day to day. It’s important that we don’t give up and move past our bad days. We can turn to our goals and to our purpose to refocus. It’s better to be wary of our energy levels and work at a pace that’s reliable and achievable for everyone. Sébastien called consistency the ultimate weapon for following our ambitions. “It’s not sexy but it works,” he said.

As the presentation wrapped up, and Sébastien once again highlighted the importance of developing endurance, preparing properly, and using agility and flexibility to win the long game he also acknowledged that we all “hit the wall” sometimes. He said it’s a natural reaction that our brain has to protect itself and to try to ensure that we don’t hurt ourselves while we try to complete a task or accomplish a goal. Accept that “the wall” is a reasonable reaction, Sébastien said, then take stock, take a break, find a way to get back on track. That’s the simple path to ensure success.

Sébastien Sasseville empowers leaders to lead with purpose and inspires organizations to embrace change. An endurance athlete, his extraordinary accomplishments — which include summiting Mount Everest, completing the mythical Sahara race, and running across Canada — are made even more impressive by the fact that he lives with Type 1 Diabetes. Having held diverse sales roles in several Fortune 500 companies, Sébastien marries his extensive business experience with his inspirational achievements to deliver dynamic messaging on change management, leadership, and teamwork.

Speakers’ Spotlight has been offering virtual presentations since 2009. We work with a range of speakers who are comfortable with presenting virtually on a variety of topics. If interested, contact us for more information.