Learning how to “come back stronger,” in business and in life, is key to ensuring success. That's according to Sarah Robb O’Hagan, CEO of EXOS, a human performance coaching company.

During the most recent Empowering Women in Supply Chain virtual event, an SAP webinar series focused on networking and learning opportunities for women in supply chain, Darcy MacClaren, Chief Revenue Officer, SAP Digital Supply Chain, moderated a keynote session and fireside chat with Robb O’Hagan on the topic of growing from professional peaks and valleys.

Often reflecting on her own career as an executive and entrepreneur in the hour-long Sept. 8 session, presented by SAP in partnership with Mygo Consulting, Robb O'Hagan—who previously served as President of Equinox, Global President of Gatorade, and Marketing Director at Nike and the Virgin Group—discussed the importance of getting comfortable making bold career moves and “tuning your mind and body for high performance” in the complex and fast-evolving world of supply chain.

Frequently, she also discussed the importance of failure, from getting fired twice in her twenties to championing what she playfully describes as “the worst athlete campaign in the history of Nike” during her tenure there. Robb O’Hagan still updates an “anti-resume” on her LinkedIn profile where she lists failures alongside successes.

“I’m clear in my point of view that failure is great for building potential, and years of doing it has taught me how to rebound from it better,” she said. “It is these moments that help us become the highest-performing versions of ourselves.”

Below, find Robb O’Hagan’s three key insights into navigating disruption and persevering through adversity.

1. Rejection is the beginning, and not the end.

    “Breakthroughs are not for the faint of heart,” said Robb O’Hagan, reflecting on how converging business trends have impacted our ability to achieve new breakthroughs in business.

    As professionals confront the realities of working in “a world of instant gratification” that incentivizes quick wins but devalues long-term initiatives that might not work initially, it’s more important than ever to trust your instincts, she said. Today’s businesses are “drowning in data,” which can complicate decision-making if leaders become overwhelmed and cannot remain focused on long-term end goals, she added.

    In undertaking a multi-year business transformation at Gatorade following the 2008 recession, Robb O’Hagan believed the only way forward was to evolve the company into a “healthier business,” building upon Gatorade’s foundation in beverages to establish a full line of sports nutrition products.

    “One organization moving into all these product forms was complicated from a supply-chain standpoint, but supply-chain partners leaned in the fastest to figure it out, faster than other areas of the business,” said Robb O’Hagan. “We couldn’t afford to listen to the many voices telling us this couldn’t work. Instead, we worked with the right partners and kept optimizing and improving, until we got to where we wanted to be.”

    In reflecting on this disruptive experience, Robb O’Hagan said that transformation takes time, and that transforming a company’s internal culture happens gradually and requires leaders to “own the message” of their vision repeatedly, until others begin buying in.

    Robb O’Hagan noted that those earlier in their careers can stand out by standing alongside leaders in the midst of implementing change. “Every leader is looking for someone who’s going to step up, who’s on board and can help spread the word to others,” she added. “It’s almost as hard to be the first follower as it is to be the leader.”

    2. Stand proud and willing to learn.

      “You won’t stay at the summit forever,” said Robb O’Hagan, as she reflected on the ups and downs of her career. Instead, she explained, cultivating a mindset of openness, humility, and resilience can help anyone navigate the headwinds of professional development.

      “We’re going to have the highs, and the lows, but those can happen to everyone, and there’s more in common than there is different between those times,” she said. “It’s how we respond to them that matters most.”

      Every day, Robb O’Hagan advised, “take a step.” Completing one task a day that in some way moves you toward where you want to be in your career is a key part of building personal and professional momentum.  

      Robb O'Hagan also advocated in favor of specialization, asking, "Are you the leader in a certain category, or are you trying to be all things to all people?" The danger of spreading oneself too thin, she said, is that imposter syndrome can set in. Managers, she added, notice employees who shine in specific and measurable ways, and favor those who are honest in assessing both their strengths and their weaknesses.

      3. Get ready for greatness.

        In her current role, Robb O’Hagan focuses on preparing people to take on the moments that matter most in their work, sport, and daily lives. Working with supply-chain professionals and training professional athletes, she said that it’s crucial not to let “extreme efforts lead to extreme burnout.”

        Instead, Robb O’Hagan advised, focus on building “intentional recovery” into the workday. “As executives, we often go without rest, and then we wonder why we’re so exhausted,” she said. “Optimizing your psychology and your biology, to get your body ready for the day, will help you develop readiness and feel the opposite of overwhelmed.” In closing, Robb O'Hagan offered three tips for intentional recovery:

        1. Keep moving. In day-to-day work for remote employees, focusing on a computer screen all day can add to physical and psychological strain. At EXOS, rather than having all-day Zoom calls, one-on-one meetings are scheduled as walk-and-talk phone calls.
        2. Nutrition is essential. Being intentional and prepared for the week ahead, and staying healthy in what one consumes throughout the workday, can make one more effective at tackling all kinds of work-related challenges.
        3. Program the day thoughtfully. “Entering a flow state, as I call it, is when you feel like you can get lost in a specific task,” Robb O’Hagan said. “When you have thoughtful work, move your body for 30 minutes before you sit down. I think of this as putting your oxygen mask on first before you can help others.”

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