Pursuing Better Together with Tanni Grey-Thompson Transcript
Pursuing Better Together with Baroness Grey-Thompson DBE
In Episode 2 of Arch’s Pursuing Better Together podcast series we talk to Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE, someone who, for many, personifies the idea of achievement in the face of adversity.
Born with spina bifida, Grey-Thompson’s drive and ambition from an early age, plus the support of those around her, has seen her not only become one of Britain’s most successful Paralympic athletes, but also a life peer when she was conferred as Baroness Grey-Thompson of Eaglescliffe in the County of Durham.
“It [the drive] probably came from my parents who were both quite strong willed in slightly different ways,” Grey-Thompson believes. “They made a decision not to treat me any differently and not to wrap me in cotton wool. I think they always saw the competitiveness in me.”
The idea that “anything is possible” was impressed upon her from the start, and Grey-Thompson achieved incredible success as a wheelchair athlete including not only 11 Paralympic gold medals, but also World Championship golds and multiple world records, as well as being a six-time London Marathon winner.
Since leaving the track, she has focused much of her energy on the political arena as a Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords, debating on issues including Welfare Reform, Assisted Suicide, Accessibility and Equality.
Throughout her career, however, one constant has been her commitment to always aiming higher and pushing harder to achieve her goals.
“One of the most important things about being an athlete,” she says, “is that while you are afraid of failing, you are not afraid to put yourself on the start line where you may fail. You’re always having to reinvent yourself — you can’t just do the same training that you did last year.”
Making those often-incremental improvements in performance by evolving your training methods can often prove the difference between a podium finish and an also-ran.
“The training is never ending,” Grey-Thompson says. “To compete in the 100 metres at Athens, which was my last Games, my team manager asked me to break my personal best. So, I trained for four years to break my personal best by 0.1 of a second.” She adds: “You never know what that jump in your improvement is going to happen — sometimes it can take a really long time.”
However, for some the aspiration to push harder and aim higher is lacking, a fact which Grey-Thompson believes comes back to the fear of failure.
“I failed a lot in my sporting career — I lost a lot of races. But I also won some very big, important ones too. I think it also comes down to confidence and your level of resilience,” she says, adding that, “It’s about having that honest conversation with yourself about whether you are being the best that you can be and asking what else you can do… If you say you want to be the best in the world, are you doing all the things you need to do to be the best in the world?”
Of course, achieving sky-high ambitions cannot be achieved in isolation, particularly in the sporting arena. Athletes surround themselves with specialists across every component of their performance, an approach which aligns well with Arch’s theme of Pursuing Better Together.
“That idea of better together is so important because nobody is able to do it on their own,” she firmly believes, adding, “I trained with a range of people who brought different things to the training group. It’s all about recognising those different strengths… and recognising the jigsaw of people. That’s why diversity and inclusion is so important in building that jigsaw.”
That jigsaw is composed of what Tanni describes as “critical friends”, those you trust to give their honest opinion and the advice that helps you improve.
That network is also key to her success in the House of Lords. “You spend huge amounts of time preparing, meeting people, gathering evidence, reading notes, and writing speeches. But when in the chamber, you only have two minutes to take people with you. I can only do that if I have that network of people around me.”
She concludes, “That idea of better together is so important because the best leaders I’ve seen are the ones who aren’t afraid to put really good people around them.”
About Arch Insurance International Podcasts
During our Pursuing Better Together series, we’ll hear from luminaries both inside and outside of the insurance industry about how they have “pursued better” within their chosen professions.