Collaborative Coaching: From LeBron James to Elite Rowing

    When LeBron James announced his decision to depart Cleveland for Los Angeles to join the Lakers, there was plenty of excitement (and despair), accompanied by grand projections for the decision’s impact on the rest of the NBA. A peripheral but intriguing storyline was the fact that James would now be coached by Luke Walton from the same 2003 NBA Draft class. Walton was drafted 31 spots after James, the number one pick that year. Only five years apart in age, they’re practically peers. It’s interesting that the youngest coach in the NBA will be coaching the larger than life, arguably greatest player in the NBA. Can it possibly work?

    Walton is known as a player’s coach, having developed his coaching style under some of the greatest coaches out there, including five-time NBA Champion (as a player) and three-time NBA Champion (as a coach), Warriors Head Coach, Steve Kerr. In a 2016 interview, Walton said of his time under Kerr, “It was the first time I'd been around that type of open relationship between player [and] coach. That's naturally who I am. I like being able to talk to the guys, can include them in decisions and get their feedback. The way [Kerr] did that and the success we had and how much that helped in having players take ownership of what we were doing as a team is something that is a big part of my coaching style now.”

    With a player like LeBron, Walton will have to continue to cultivate a collaborative environment much like the one he learned up in Oakland under Coach Kerr. If Kerr and what he has going on with the Warriors is any indication of the power of collaboration, Walton is on the right track.

    Sports fans and athletes alike have been debating the qualities of what makes the best coach for decades. For some, “great players make great coaches” or “the greatest players make awful coaches, because X, Y, Z.” The reality is that there is no right answer and it all depends on the situation, sport, and personnel. 

    As a professional athlete and Olympian, I’ve experienced the gamut of coaching styles and player-coach dynamics throughout my career. For the past few years, my boat partner and two-time Olympian, Ellen Tomek and I have been in perhaps our most nontraditional coaching arrangement, but also our most successful one. 


    (Photo Credit:

    Since Ellen and I teamed up in 2013, we’ve had to bounce around training centers, change coaches, and essentially fend for ourselves. We’ve had to make some big decisions, none of which were accompanied with a $154 million contract and ESPN feature, a la LeBron James.

    Despite the turbulence, we’re now the winningest women’s double in American history. We’ve won four World Cup medals, competed at five World Championships, the 2016 Olympic Games, and in all our years together have only lost one race on U.S. soil. We made history at last year’s World Championships where we took second, the best finish ever for the U.S. in the event. Our silver medal also broke a 27-year medal drought for the U.S. in the event.

    Left without a coach heading into the Olympic year in the fall of 2015, we turned to former teammate and successful U.S. rower, Sarah Trowbridge who had retired after the 2012 Olympics to begin her coaching career. Only a couple years older, Sarah was very much a peer. We had all trained together at the U.S. Rowing Training Center and Ellen and Sarah both rowed at Michigan together.

    So we began what would become a collaboration. We learned from her and she learned from us as we navigated how to build a fast American women’s double. While managing two athletes is very different from managing a full basketball roster, the elements of building a culture in which the athletes have the ability to engage in the process, provide feedback, and take ownership is the same. The atmosphere is fun, but accompanied by a high level of effort and hard work. 

    We were no longer left to fend for ourselves because our team had grown to three. Trust and accountability was woven throughout the threads of this collaborative process.

    It was sometime early last year after the Rio Olympics that I began calling our pursuit, “The Women’s Double Project.” Early on, we learned that if we were going to do something different, we had to go about things differently, revolutionarily even. 

    Last month we won our sixth consecutive U.S. National Team Trials, securing our spots to compete at the upcoming 2018 World Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. This summer we leaned into our unique coaching strategy that we discovered over the past few years.


    Having moved back into collegiate coaching as the head coach of the University of San Diego Women’s Rowing Team last year, Sarah was unable to join us for travel to this summer’s World Cup and World Championships. Knowing that we wanted to hold on to the magic that we had found, we turned to Kate Bertko, another former teammate and Olympian who had recently retired from competition and was coaching at the collegiate level, to help us on the project.

    Our team grew from three to four and with it, an expansion to our arsenal of experience and passion for the women’s double.

    Since 2008, at least one of the four of us have been a member of the U.S. women’s double and/or lightweight women’s double. This wasn’t accidental. Ellen and I sought out the best scullers and students of the sport who also understood the nuance between creating a new path toward success versus stepping onto an already paved path. There was no playbook for what we were doing, so we needed pioneers and trailblazers. We needed collaborators.

    We have yet to achieve King James status in our sport, but I like to think that we’re onto something by breaking from the more traditional coaching mold in rowing.

    No one coaching structure is perfect, but that’s exactly my argument. Whether it’s coaching, mentorship, or a professional working relationship, collaboration is key. Collaboration requires an understanding that both parties are benefitting from working together toward a shared goal and effectively, mutual benefit.

    Athlete or coach, employee or boss, mentee or mentor, you each must be willing to contribute to the process from start to finish, holding each other accountable throughout.

    Lessons from the Army: 4 Tips for Being A Better Leader at Work

    In January of 2018, at 28 years old with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a great job in a great city, I decided to do a complete 180 and serve with the men and women who defend our country. I recently completed basic training and airborne school in the Army.


    The purpose of basic training is, in essence, to create a team - Team USA if you will. To do so, they (being ‘the military’) must take what are primarily young, immature kids, many of whom have no concept of a team, and get them to a place where they put the needs of others - their battle buddies - ahead of their own. The Army’s method for doing this involves healthy doses of screaming in your face, crawling in mud/sand, pushups, sit-ups, and the list goes on but the common denominator is negative reinforcement.

    When I was in basic training, I was the leader of my platoon and it was my job to manage the 30 other guys in the platoon and pass down information from the drill sergeants. I found that managing this group of people was comparable to herding cats. There were constantly arguments to be put out, bad attitudes to be dealt with, and changes in circumstances to adapt to.

    But as time went on, I learned a few valuable lessons about how to be a good leader and manager. From resolving conflict and managing underperforming teammates, I’ve put together a list of lessons you can apply to your own lifestyle and leadership opportunities.

    Resolving Conflict: Empathy vs. Aggression

    I found that the best way to deal with any sort of conflict is first to understand both sides. Sometimes this isn’t possible, especially in the heat of the moment; I can’t tell you how many times in basic training I decided to yell at someone to get them moving, or to stop talking, or to pack up their gear, but once things calmed down a little, I always made an effort to reach out and see if I could understand the other person's point of view, and also explained why I did what I did. Sometimes this ended up being an apology on my end, but the biggest benefit was that it kept the team together.

    If the person I was arguing with understands my point of view, even if he/she doesn't agree with it, they’ll still respect me, and if they respect me as a leader, I can still lead. I found that yelling at someone, shunning them, or belittling them didn’t motivate them to perform at their highest level. Being a firm but empathetic leader can help you get the most out of your team and help you all focus on achieving your main goal.

    Small Details Make a Big Difference

    In the military, the price of failure could very well be death, which is why attention to detail was drilled into our skulls at basic training. I had a drill sergeant who oversaw our pre-combat checks (PCCs) and pre-combat inspections (PCIs). We would go over every detail: checking the logistics, checking our equipment, checking our battle buddy, making sure that everything is ready to go well ahead of time so that when (not if) things go sideways, you’re able to react to it quickly and effectively.

    There is a massive amount of planning that goes on, but the motto is that once the first shot is fired, any and all plans go out the window, and you have to react to the situation at hand, accomplishing the mission using any method necessary (with certain exceptions). You always have to be prepared for plans B, C, D, etc.

    I've found this is similar in running a business, launching a project, or getting through your work day. Having a plan, double-checking that you’re prepared, and then having contingency plans for what to do if something goes wrong is the key to running an effective and efficient team.

    Discipline is Freedom

    This is a quote from Jocko Willink, a heavily awarded SEAL commander who fought in the battle of Ramadi during the Iraq war. It may seem a bit at odds with itself, but if you think about it, this is something that is true in almost every aspect of life. In the military, if you are disciplined in being on time, having your gear squared away, being physically and mentally prepared at all times, you will actually have more freedom because your peers and commanders will trust you more, and you will ultimately gain more respect from those around you.

    In life, if you disciplined and eat healthy and exercise, you’ll literally be more free to explore the world because you’ll have fewer health issues that might otherwise keep you at home or in a hospital. If you are more disciplined at work, you might get promoted and instead of having to do what someone else wants you to do, you’d be able to start solving the problems you want to solve the way you want to solve them.

    Your team is only as good as the people in it.

    It may seem as though you need to go out and find all of the best people, which you should, but one big thing I took out of my bootcamp experience is how much a leader is able to sculpt and build a team. As hard as it was working with a group of teenagers, the team my platoon leader and I created was actually pretty good. We were the only platoon to graduate all of it’s members, we won almost every inter-platoon competition, and we had the highest fitness scores by far.

    Part of this may very well have been luck of the draw, but I think a lot of it can be attributed to the emphasis on team building that we had. Everyone, no matter the circumstance, is able to contribute in one way or another. I found that it was imperative that everyone felt like a contributor to the team, even if in a small way. This originally surprised me because you often hear of groups where a few people sort of do it all while the others don’t do anything. This creates a divide in the team because the people doing the work think the others are worthless and the ones not doing anything could care less about the success of the group because they’re not invested.

    For example, there was guy named John who never did anything to help. Never cleaned, never carried anything extra, never volunteered unless he thought it would directly benefit him. Well, one day he volunteered for “chow squad” because you often got more food if you were the one serving it. And every time our platoon had chow squad, John would volunteer so he could get extra food.

    So, I asked him to start sneaking more food for everyone, not just our platoon, and what that did for us is make everyone, even those from the other platoons like our platoon. This helped a great deal down the road during exercises when we had to work with the other platoons, because the other groups respected our platoon.

    Even though John initially volunteered for chow squad only to benefit himself, by encouraging him in the right direction, he developed a reputation as the best server in the entire company and in-turn contributed to the success of the team. The only caveat being he got caught giving extra scoops a few times and consequently had to do a large amount of pushups, but it was all in good fun.

    Building and leading a team can look different for everyone, whether you’re leading a platoon in the Army or preparing your team at work for their next big pitch or presentation. It’s rare to be a natural leader and I found that there is always something that you can do to improve your leadership style.

    Think about being firm but empathetic in your next workplace conflict. Don’t forget about the little things as those details can create bigger problems down the road. Be disciplined, whether it’s coming to work on time, hitting deadlines, or your own personal workout routine. The consistency will pay off and you’ll find yourself with more freedom because of it. And lastly, you don’t need a team of all stars to make a great team. Learn how you can motivate and develop the people around you to make the team as a whole better.

    Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and to this day, I’m still surprised at the number of lessons I learned at basic training that I can apply to life outside of the Army.

    Josh is a two-time US National Team rower with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan. He has been with InstaViser for three years working with and developing the Customer Success team. Currently, he is in the Army training to become a Green Beret.


    Inspiring the Next Generation of Women

    By Meghan O'Leary

    For as long as I can remember, I have always identified as an athlete. Born in 1984, I was the first generation to truly benefit from Title IX (passed in 1972). As a kid, I didn’t know a world that didn’t have sports for little girls. Women’s sports and athletes were just starting to gain broader coverage on television, though still sparse compared to their male counterparts.


    I was 13 years old when, on the heels of a much-publicized gold medal run by the 1996 USA Basketball Women’s National Team at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, the WNBA began its first season in 1997. College basketball enjoyed the UConn vs. Tennessee rivalry as the two of the greatest coaches, Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt battled for title after title. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and the “99ers” were America’s sweethearts after winning the World Cup and setting attendance and television viewership records along the way.

    I had an ongoing project that I began in middle school, lining the walls just inside the door to my bedroom with magazine articles or pictures that featured female Olympians, professional and college athletes. I called it my “inspiration wall” and every morning as I left my room on my way to school, I was reminded of who I could be and what I could accomplish. I could see it, so I could be it too.

    Ironically, or perhaps of my own volition and determination, I grew up and was a two-sport Division I college athlete and I’m now an Olympian and five-time member of the U.S. National Rowing Team. After first beginning a career in sports media (working in Production and Programming at ESPN for five years), I set out on the challenging journey of being an entrepreneur and building a new company, InstaViser.

    Nearly two decades after covering my walls with tape and carefully torn out magazine pages (and probably driving my mother crazy “because I was damaging the paint”), I continue to find much of my inspiration by looking up and around at the women who surround me, many of whom who fought to open the doors that I now walk through. Thanks to social media and the endless number of online outlets available today, it is a lot easier to identify and find the trailblazers and leaders in sports, media, and business.

    As I did years ago, I gravitate to reading about those who are making waves, challenging the status quo, and breaking through barriers. Who is disrupting the industry or environment around them with innovation or a fresh perspective? How are they doing it? Who is asking “why has it always only been done this way” or “what if” and then taking the difficult steps to explore that and prove it can be done better?

    The root to finding inspiration is finding the right people to aspire to be like and even, to be better than. A lifetime in sports taught me that there is nothing wrong with a little competition to help you achieve greater heights.

    2018 is quickly becoming the Year of the Woman. From the fuel and fire behind the Time’s Up movement, to Team USA women bringing home more medals than the men for the first time in 20 years at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games (my favorite Olympic moment was watching Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall become the first American cross-country skiers to win an Olympic gold, ending a 42-year drought for the U.S. in the sport!), to Emma Gonzalez, a high school senior epitomizing poise and resilience as she works to pave the way for change, I feel fortunate to live in a time when I have access to an abundance of women role models. It wasn’t that inspirational women didn’t exist before; rather they didn’t have the platform, the power, or the seat at the table to shine and get things done as they are now.

    Outside of my professional athletic career, I am the vice president of InstaViser. My work there puts me in front of so many incredible people doing remarkable things. Every day, I get to work with companies, many led by inspiring women, like CSweetener, an organization dedicated to propelling female healthcare leaders forward via mentorship. Or the the United States Olympic Committee and the ACE Mentor Network led by ACE Director, Leslie Klein, that connects Olympic and Paralympic athletes with former athletes and industry experts to help them achieve success in their sport and career. Just a few months ago, during the lead-up to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, one of the ACE Mentor Network users, Carlijn Schoutens connected with four-time Olympian and all-around inspiration, Lauryn Williams via our platform, for advice and guidance as she navigated Olympic Trials and then the Games. Carlijn made the Olympic Team and went on to win an Olympic Bronze medal.

    Through my work as a professional athlete, public speaker, and with InstaViser, I hope to inspire the next generation of dreamers, doers, and high-achievers who are changing the world — many of them the next great women business leaders, politicians, and athletes. As one of the great leaders of the Title IX movement, Billie Jean King said,


    “The way to make real progress in business, in sports, and in society is to lift each other up. You don’t fight each other for the same seat at the table — you make more seats by bringing women with you. It’s up to us. By empowering the women around you, you empower yourself and make our world a better place.”

    Meghan O’Leary is a United States Olympian and five-time national team rower, motivational speaker, and Vice President of InstaViser. She currently lives and works in San Francisco, California.

    2017: A Year in Review

    It’s been quite a year for InstaViser. During the past 12 months, we have worked to create engaged learning communities with clients that range from professional networks to non-profits and university groups. Over countless Slack conversations and cups of coffee, our team worked tirelessly to improve our software, helping our online communities connect easier and faster. We are proud to offer a private networking platform for learning institutions and empowerment organizations to better serve their members.

    In 2017, our diverse span of customer networks included top brand companies and organizations such as the University of California-Berkeley Athletics, the Culinary Institute of America, the United States Olympic Committee Athlete Career and Education Program and CSweetener. Collectively, we powered communities that served hundreds of mentors and thousands of mentees, creating authentic connections and forging stronger ties for professional growth, mentorship, and lifelong learning.

    “My mentor was very patient, kind, understanding and relatable,” said an ACE Mentor Network user. “I instantly knew that this time was valuable not only to me but her as well! After speaking with her, I felt confident that each answer to my questions was filled with practical advice that I could immediately begin to implement. I am truly grateful and inspired to continue dreaming, reaching and pursuing at great lengths. It is awesome to see successful women encouraging younger women like me.”

    From one of our Cal Golden Ties Network Advisors: “I think our session went really well (it was the first for both of us). The student had good questions and was prepared. I have a number of contacts to share with her to assist her with her career options. Terrific platform. Very easy to navigate the session.”

    We also welcomed several new clients to our InstaViser family including CSweetener and Food Venture Lab. CSweetener is a non-profit organization dedicated to matching emerging female healthcare leaders new and near to the C-Suite, with those who have successfully navigated the terrain for mentorship in an effort to increase the ratio of women in executive positions. Food Venture Lab provides students with one-on-one sessions with top food experts, restaurant executives, and culinary artists.

    Several new members joined the InstaViser team in 2017. We’re thrilled to have Meghan O’Leary come on board full-time in the role of Vice President, overseeing our customer success and marketing departments. Prior to InstaViser, Meghan worked for five years at ESPN in Content Production and Programming and currently competes as an Olympic rower for Team USA. We’re also excited to welcome Michael Colella as our newest customer success manager. Michael graduated from Cornell University and has been training and competing on the U.S. Men’s Rowing team for the past two years.

    Other InstaViser team members in the news include Elana Meyers-Taylor, our customer success manager, who will be representing the United States on the Olympic Bobsled team and software developer Kyle Tress who will be coaching the Japanese Olympic Skeleton team at the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

    As we look ahead to another year, we are welcoming several new community platforms to the InstaViser family that will be launching throughout the next quarter.

    “To be able to work with so many great organizations and to help them leverage the power of their networks is a profound experience,” said InstaViser CEO and co-founder, Pete Cipollone. “Our team did great things in 2017 and we look forward to doing even more, better and faster in 2018 as we continue to expand and provide a great product, doing our part to change lives, one connection at a time.”

    Thank you,

    The Team at InstaViser

    About InstaViser

    Founded in 2015 by a team of Olympians, InstaViser empowers a new world of global connection and learning for people of all ages and walks of life. For learning institutions and empowerment organizations who serve talented strivers aspiring to reach their potential, InstaViser creates private networking platforms that seamlessly create engaged learning communities. InstaViser helps our customers create authentic connections, leveraging their brands to realize the power of their networks. We are in the business of changing lives, one connection at a time. For more information please visit:


    How to Become a Great Leader

    We all aspire to improve ourselves, whether it’s to become a future CEO, increase our income, or change industries. As you move along in your career, you will work under a variety of leadership styles, forming your own opinions on what makes a great leader.

    Leaders can come in many different forms from company executives or managers to the ambitious intern or friendly face in accounting. No matter the industry, you will start to see key qualities about leaders that you look forward to working with.

    Here's a little inspiration from influential thought and business leaders on their favorite leadership qualities and how great leaders can set themselves apart from the rest of the pack:

    1. “Hire well, manage little.” —Warren Buffett
    2. “The best leader is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” - Theodore Roosevelt
    3. "In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way." --Tina Fey
    4. “Leaders don't create followers, they create more leaders.” - Tom Peters
    5. “A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.” - John C. Maxwell
    6. "Early on I realized that I had to hire people smarter and more qualified than I was in a number of different fields, and I had to let go of a lot of decision making. I can't tell you how hard that is. But if you've imprinted your values on the people around you, you can dare to trust them to make the right moves." --Howard Schultz
    7. "A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame; a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all; a leader asks questions. A boss makes work drudgery; a leader makes it interesting." --Russell H. Ewing

    Looking to make the leap from good to great at work? Talk with a mentor to learn about their favorite quotes on leadership and what characteristics they've found in great leaders throughout their career.