Leadership Insights: Aspire to Lead Podcast Recap with Steve Mesler

Amber Calderon
Classroom Champions
8 min readAug 15, 2023

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In a recent episode of the Aspire to Lead Podcast, host Joshua Stamper engaged in an inspiring conversation with leadership development expert Steve Mesler.

As a former Olympian and the visionary force behind Classroom Champions, Mesler brings a unique perspective on leadership, mentorship, and personal growth. In this episode, he shares invaluable insights from his own journey and sheds light on the transformative power of mentorship and leadership development.

Steve Mesler on Leadership Development:

Joshua Stamper: I got my first taste of leadership in that sports environment. For you growing up, was it something similar? When did you start feeling like you had something to give in the leadership realm?

Steve Mesler: It happened pretty young for me. I was the only freshman on our varsity soccer team in high school. By the time I graduated, I was the leader of my group of my training groups and very quickly within USA bobsled, became a leader of our teams there.

I got to have people around me who got to foster and see that, you know. If you see that in a kid, you tend to foster that, that leadership skill. And I was really, really fortunate to have amazing people, both on the athlete and sport side, but outside of sport as well.

What is Classroom Champions about?

Joshua Stamper: You’re connected with amazing athletes that are supporting and helping children all over the country. What is Classroom Champions about and why did you construct in the first place?

Steve Mesler: Classroom Champions is about helping people, namely students, but also teachers and others, get better, find their better. We do that through curriculum, our version of SEL. Our version of SEL is really focused around the athlete and athlete mindset, which is an achievement mindset, a growth mindset, a success mindset, a stress enhancing mindset. This is the framework that ultimately is based upon helping students and teachers understand that there are a ubiquitous set of skills that successful people have, whether you are the best teacher, the best architect, the best CEO, the best superintendent or the best bobsledder, you have this set of skills.

Why Classroom Champions doesn’t teach traits:

Steve Mesler: It is not about traits. It’s really hard for a child to wrap their head around what a trait is and how well that child or that person has that trait. “I don’t, therefore I can’t have it.” These things are skills.

These are the skills that honestly I hire for and leaders in my field and other fields that I work with all the time in other parts of my life hire for too.

Our Classroom Champions Curriculum covers eight units focused on social-emotional skill practice and development. Each unit is taught through the lens of Athlete Mentor Stories and encompasses video lessons and challenges, classroom activities, and independent practice.

Want to check out the goal setting unit for free? Access it here!

How technology bridges the Mentorship Gap:

Steve Mesler: They say, Olympian, go be a role model. What does that mean? One of the early things that we wanted to solve is the classic school visit where somebody who’s successful goes to visit children someplace, talks to them and then leaves and never sees them again.

It’s not about if I could just affect one kid. It has to be about if I can affect the absolute most amount of human beings, I possibly can. We do this as leaders every day, and that’s where the ethos of Classroom Champions came from.

Let’s build a relationship with these kids, and we’ve been doing it virtually because we’re we’re dealing with currently competing athletes. They’re traveling the world. They’re busy. We all know mentorship programs live and die by just the volunteers ability to get there.

So let’s remove that barrier by using technology. Let’s make a lot of it asynchronous so the teachers have a lot more flexibility.

Students thrive practicing in multiple environments

Steve Mesler: We need to start earlier than leadership development training when you’re 35 years old. These are skill sets that we can, in fact, teach. This leads to more positive mental health outcomes.

Learning to read is a goal. Getting an A in the math test is a goal.

Underneath that is… Persevering through getting things wrong.

We’ve all seen the data that’s come out recently where we’re spending more on math and reading and our scores are going down. Well, if I want to run a fast 5K, I’m not just going to go run 5Ks every day.

For those runners out there, the analogy fits. You have to do speed work. You have to do core work. You have to lift weights. You have to do long runs and short runs. And very rarely do you ever actually run the thing. I’m not saying very rarely should you do math. But I’m saying we’ve got to look at the whole way that we’re doing this.

Get leadership discussion prompts to help foster leadership skills in your students here.

How being a leader means setting aside your ego:

Steve Mesler: It’s hard to listen to voices that you don’t agree with, or that sound like they are coming from the cheap seats. Sometimes it’s just a few questions to those people without condescension, because understanding as a leader, you have to rise above and you have to make it not about your ego because your ego is invested in success. And today’s shots shouldn’t have anything to do with your ego, even though it’s really hard

I say this as somebody who’s been drugged through the mud, both publicly and privately, throughout all these different processes. Being able to separate your ego, being comfortable with you doing the right things and walk home to your family and be okay with that.

Your success is going to be judged in the longterm. That’s such a huge lesson right there for any aspiring or current leader. I think everyone’s going to experience that at some point that are persevering through that and being aware of it as it’s happening.

Looking to build the culture and the team around you at your school? In the end, each of us is only one person and whether we support three teachers or thirty, our students depend on the culture we set up to help them succeed. Download the free Leadership Toolkit here.

Steve Mesler’s advice for leaders looking to grow

Joshua Stamper: What are some of these important leadership aspects that you try to teach?

Steve Mesler: One set is around getting both your industry knowledge and your out of industry knowledge.

As a leader, yes, your industry is different, so learn about it. Gain your industry knowledge, and have a peer set in your industry. Also, you’re not different, so get a peer set outside of that, outside of your industry’s knowledge. Gain and listen to podcasts, read things that are outside of your realm of leadership, and have friends and peers outside of that. If you’re a leader in a school district, you’re going to be able to find a mentor in a relationship set outside there.

Steve Mesler’s advice for formal mentorship

Steve Mesler: Entering a formal mentorship situation with somebody is actually simpler than a lot of people think. Don’t just say, can I get a coffee with you? Say, would you be willing to mentor me for the year? All right. What does that look like? That looks like once a month, we will get a coffee or once a month we will jump on a zoom. You remove the uncomfortableness of you needing to ask them to do a favor.

You just did that. You’re done. You’re solved. You’ve asked for your favor every month where you ask them for coffee. It’s not you asking them for a favor. They’ve already committed that now you’re doing something for each other. Setting up those formal relationships is super important.

As Leaders, Understand the rules of getting better:

#1: Leaders should do things they like

Steve Mesler: On other side of it, is understanding the rules of getting better. The rules are to do things you like, as a leader in your field, do make sure you’re doing some things you’re leaning into things you like.

#2: Leaders should do things they don’t like

Steve Mesler: The second one is do things you don’t like. It doesn’t mean a folksy. I don’t like to wake up in the morning to workout. I’m not telling you that when my alarm goes off at 5:15, I like it. I don’t. Every time my alarm goes off at 5:15, I don’t want to do it. But I wake up and I do it.

I’m not a distance runner. I ran my 7k this morning. I don’t like it. No point on that run that I say to myself, I love this. What do I love? The outcome of it. I love the way it makes me feel. I love an hour investment in my time gives me 15 hours of energy for the day. Do the things you don’t like, don’t get tricked into hearing it from other people that you will learn to love it.

#3: Leaders should own their choices

Steve Mesler: Number three, own your choices. Understand that being happy is a choice. Being miserable is a choice, period. Just because somebody said something to you that pissed you off, doesn’t mean you need to be pissed off. It doesn’t.

Yes, that millisecond or even that few minutes afterwards, there’s an initial reaction that is, like, normal. But past that, it becomes, you’re a fully capable adult. Past that, it becomes your choice how you feel about it. And staying mad at somebody, For something they did that you feel aggrieved or slighted, and this is coming from somebody who did this for a long time, who’s now found more joy in myself and my work and more positivity by realizing that is my stuff. It’s not their stuff. It’s done. The thing they said isn’t echoing. They didn’t keep saying it to me. I didn’t go home and complain about it.

How will you cultivate leadership?

In this recap of the Aspire to Lead Podcast featuring Steve Mesler, we’ve ventured into leadership development, mentorship, and personal growth. From his early emergence as a leader on the soccer field, the Olympic Games, and his revolutionary work with Classroom Champions, Mesler’s insights have illuminated the path towards fostering an achievement mindset, breaking free from ego, and embracing discomfort.

As the episode draws to a close, we are reminded that leadership is not confined to a singular field, but rather a universal skillset that can be honed through deliberate practice, diverse experiences, and meaningful mentorship.

Mesler’s wisdom serves as a clarion call for aspiring leaders to embark on a journey of self-discovery, empathy, and unwavering determination. As we leave this conversation, we carry with us the transformative power of leadership, poised to ignite positive change within ourselves, our communities, and beyond.

To subscribe to Steve Mesler’s Leadership newsletter, click here.

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