Mad Serena yelling at judgesSerena Williams is one of the most successful women tennis players of all time with 14 Grand Slam singles titles.  She has brought women’s tennis to a new level of power and aggressive play.

Serena recently won Wimbledon at the ripe age of 30 and set a record of 102 aces for the tournament which was more than any man or woman.  She is the first 30 year old woman to have won Wimbledon since Martina Navratilova did in 1990.

But, Serena is also known for her temper outbursts.  Some of you may recall that Serena has lost the last two US Open Finals she has played in part due to two temper outbursts:  one in which she threatened to shove a racket down the throat of a line judge after calling a foot fault and a second in which she bullied an umpire after a code violation.  Serena’s actions resulted in a two-year probation by the Women’s Tennis Association.

Something else happened to Serena in the last two years:  she almost died due to blood clots in her lungs from surgeries on an injured foot.  She was off the tour for almost a year and a half.  The Serena I witnessed win this year’s Wimbledon appeared to be a new and improved version.  I believe Serena won Wimbledon because of her new attitude – what I call Gracious Aggression.  Let me explain what this mean and my observations from watching her win and why this important for the rest of us mortals who are aggressive and attempting to do great things!

Let me take you back to the finals of Wimbledon.  Serena played a very aggressive first set winning 6-1 and appeared to be on track to easily win Wimbledon.  But, in the second set there was a rain delay and her opponent Agi Radwanska, the first Polish tennis player to be in a Grand Slam final, began to get into Serena’s head.  Agi is half Serena’s size; she lacks power but uses her quick hands, feet, shot variety and guile to wear out her opponents by running down every ball.  Serena lost the second set by appearing to let Agi take charge and by missing many first serves.  As the third set began, I thought will Serena lose her temper like she has in the past?

What happened next surprised me.  As the third set began, Serena started out slowly almost losing her serve but she didn’t lose her cool.  Instead, she slowed things down and began to play a calm aggressive style of tennis.  Serena hit aces, smacked winners, and took charge and went on to win the third set 6-2.  And, when it came time to give her victory speech she began by asking the crowd to give Radwanska another round of applause.  Then, she went on to say how well Agi played and how grateful she was to win another Grand slam.

I want to define what I mean by gracious aggression and explore how Serena won Wimbledon.  I want to invite a conversation to learn what others think about this new paradigm for winning.  Can the rest of us mere mortals follow Serena’s lead?  Let’s define what I mean by gracious aggression:

Gracious aggression (n.) – Involves a mindset which believes you can achieve your goals without having to intimidate others or induce fear to win.  This belief involves acting in a magnanimous way towards yourself and others which in turn will increase the odds that you will achieve your goals in a more expedient manner.  You can be fierce in your drive to win and skilled in how to manage your emotions, body language, and establish clear boundaries in all of your relationships.  This view allows you to maintain a positive and gracious manner towards yourself and others even in times of stress or when things are not going your way.

This belief comes from this month’s recommended reading, The Trance of Scarcity by Victoria Castle.  Victoria defines a new mindset that is based on an attitude of being grateful which is the foundation for gracious aggression.    This approach allows you to build a supportive and trusting network or in Serena’s case, adoring fans!

Here are things that I have learned from watching Serena:

  1. She breathes and takes her time between points.  This allows her to manage her emotions and stay focused during points.
  2. She manages her body language to stay positive.
  3. She appears to take a positive and gracious attitude towards playing and winning.

Serene and gracious Serena

When I watch Serena play, I am always struck about how deliberate she is between points.  She appears to walk a bit, breath, and then take her time to get into a comfortable stance.  Serena appears to understand that you have to manage your emotions and make them work for you or ignore them at your peril.  If you look at Serena when she wins a big point, she does a fist pump. And, if she loses a big point she tends to take her time and breath, replay the point with her racket, walk away, and calm down before the next point.

Second, the other key habit that tennis players teach me is the importance of body posture.  Whether Serena was winning or losing, she never looked down or frustrated.  She kept her game face on and kept fighting.  Serena has a very focused look to her whereas for some players – like Sabine Lasiky (another top tennis player) – smiles frequently to relax herself.  Smiling and laughing during matches helped me play better as well.  What is important is that you need to experiment and learn which body postures help you stay relaxed and focused.

Lastly, watching Serena’s victory speech, I was struck by how grateful she was to be on the court.  She exuded this attitude throughout the entire match. She never lost her cool even when she was falling behind.  She applauded her opponent at the end of the match.  This Serena appeared to be a much more grateful one that the one who used to lose it and yell at anyone who appeared to be getting in her way.

Watching Serena has inspired me to create a new paradigm of gracious aggression… If you are like Serena, you need to work on how to channel the aggressive emotions and to develop your gracious side.  If you are the opposite of Serena, you may have to learn how to be fierce in your focus on achieving your goals.  What does Serena’s story inspire in you?  I don’t know for sure if Serena is practicing a more gracious approach.  But I want to open up a conversation with my readers – what do you think?  Do you think it is possible to have a more gracious attitude and be a world champion?  Can you be aggressive at work and still be gracious towards people?  I am curious to learn what you think and would like to invite challenges and debate.



One Response to Gracious Aggression

  1. margo hasen says:

    Love the article, “Gracious Aggression”. Don’t we all have to be deliberate between all our points, keep our game face on and keep fighting. Yes, “we all need to “experiment and learn which body postures help you stay relaxed and focused.” Thank you for these insights.

    Margo Hasen AICI, CIP
    The Style Strategist

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