Episode #32 – Leon Taylor, Commitment in Performance

“One of the big things for me is, I had no idea how rewarding it was being involved in someone else’s performance … because it was all about me when I was an athlete and then after sport it was a real eye-opener how much intrinsic reward, enjoyment and pure joy you can gain by serving others. I think that for me is where it’s at.” – Leon Taylor

Leon Taylor is curious, passionate, and accomplished. And he is fiercely committed to what he chooses to focus on.

In 1996 Leon attended his first Olympic Games in Atlanta at the age of 18, representing Great Britain in diving. His commitment and training drove him to compete at the Olympic level twice more in the 2000 Sydney Games and the 2004 Athens Games. In Athens, he and his diving partner Peter Waterfield secured Britain’s first medal in the sport in 44 years, winning a silver medal in synchronized diving. His career lasted more than 20 years, which is astounding in of itself for such a physically punishing sport. His successes brought diving to the attention of the British public and led to additional investment in the development of the sport and its athletes in Great Britain.

Retiring from diving in May 2008, Leon is now an integral part of the BBC Sports Olympic coverage and has also been mentor to, among others, diving sensation Tom Daley. This latter role led him to write his first book. “MENTOR – The most important role you were never trained for” aimed at organisations wishing to engage and nurture talent through mentoring.

Leon is a yoga teacher, much sought after professional speaker, conference host, workshop facilitator and executive coach. His reputation and profile in these areas have steadily built over the last decade as he continues his role as a Brand Ambassador for BMW, BT and Lloyds bank, lululemon athletica and SSE. Leon’s curiousity remains peaked as he considers what exciting adventures are next and waiting to be discovered.

Selected Links and People Mentioned from this episode:

Show Notes

  • [02:10] Patrick introduces his next guest: Leon Taylor
  • [05:06] Let’s get started. Where Patrick and Leon met, and Patrick subsequently got his ass kicked a little by Leon!
  • [06:24] Patrick sets the stage for Leon and their forthcoming conversation.
  • [07:21] Leon navigates the seemingly simple (but not at all) question: Leon, what do you do?
  • [10:25] In his mentoring role, what is Leon looking for in a young athlete when he decides to work with them? Intentionality, clarity and “spidey senses” all play a part.
  • [13:45] Before getting into Leon’s journey both before and after the Olympics, let’s hear about Leon’s background and where he comes from.
  • [17:34] Leon’s first two loves in sport naturally combine to bring his focus to diving.
  • [18:43] Leon recounts the story of his introduction to the Olympic games and the decisiveness of his own journey at the age of six.
  • [22:23] Leon explains how his parents nurtured his interests and those of his sister, while allowing them both to be responsible for their choices around it. They also gave Leon little nudges to stay on track with school!
  • [25:00] Beyond personal desire, Leon describes the pivotal point at which he realized he could compete at a world-class level. A significant conversation with his Dad, defines a clear path for Leon.
  • [29:32] Leon describes the excitement of learning that his dream of going to the Olympic games is going to come true, sooner than he thought.
  • [32:23] Did Leon have expectations around winning at the 1996 games?
  • [34:25] Leon talks about the sacrifices he chose to make toward realizing his dream, and the regular check-ins and self-questioning about whether it was worth it for him.
  • [37:36] In the absence of a mentor in his early days, Leon finds the voice within himself to persevere through the mental challenges of competitive sport. This absence also fueled his desire later in life to become a mentor to young athletes.
  • [39:02] Leon describes the vast difference that occurred for him between his first Olympic games in 1996 and his performance at the 2000 Olympics.
  • [43:20] The pressures of competition and performance at the world-class level can be enormous.
  • [45:20] Confidence, for Leon, is built upon with experience and past performance. In the end, the focus has to be the process, not the outcome.
  • [48:37] After the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Leon harnesses the heartbreak of fourth place to stoke a renewed internal fire.
  • [52:02] After the setbacks, the mental challenges and the physical challenges – what was Leon’s mindset and what were his processes as he arrived at the 2004 Olympic games in Athens?
  • [57:55] Leon recounts the emotions and the ecstasy once he realized his 20-year Olympic dream had been realized: he and his teammate Peter Waterfield win a silver medal in synchronized diving. {author’s note: this may cause your eyes to leak a little}
  • [59:50] So was that it? Was winning a silver medal the pinnacle for Leon’s career in Olympic sport? Well, no… and yes.
  • [62:03] Leon and Peter bring diving into the spotlight for Great Britain for the first time in 44 years, and it continues to shine.
  • [63:20] A reality check between the 2000 and 2004 Olympics presented Leon with an opportunity to consider life beyond “Leon the Olympic Athlete” which proved to be a blessing when he received the red card for the 2008 Olympics.
  • [66:03] Now that Leon is bringing his work into the world of coaching corporate performance, he talks about the parallels to sport and the similarities he observes.
  • [69:12] In the context of coaching, does Leon see a lot of disparity between people wanting to achieve their goals and outcomes and how they’re really showing up to achieve that?
  • [72:13] How is Leon taking care of his body post high-performance sport?
  • [76:21] Leon sets a new goal for himself after six dedicated months of practicing Bikram yoga relieves him from chronic pain for the first time in five years.
  • [78:02] Leon finds inspiration within and around sport in a way that allows him to grow beyond being married to the sport of diving.
  • [80:47] What are Leon’s routines and habits now? Staying consistent, even committing to five minutes of his morning practice daily, keeps Leon grounded and starting on the right foot.
  • [84:16] Patrick and Leon discuss the importance of sleep and the difference which that routine (even before and after) makes in performance and capacity.
  • [87:43] Leon and Patrick’s relationships with social media.
  • [90:00] Leon shares his dive into mentorship and executive coaching.
  • [93:21] Leon’s filter for deciding who he’s coaching and the important conversations he and potential clients need to have to set up for success.
  • [95:33] What do future goals looks like for Leon with his yoga studios, fitness, business and lifestyle?
  • [99:10] The cross-over that Leon observes and the unlearning he’s needed to do from his world-class athletic mindset, to the mindset he needs now.
  • [103:00] How does Leon define success?
  • [104:38] Let’s roll with some rapid-fire: Leon’s favourite swear word, his alternate profession, message at the pearly gates, Leon’s weirdness scale, his singing leaves a little to be desired, what he cleans first and his favourite movie.
  • [106:41] Leon’s gratitude.

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