Running Through Walls: Going for the Gold

Vocera’s Brent Lang has accomplished something that few CEOs have done. While taking his company public in 2012 was a major milestone, what I’m referring to is winning an Olympic gold medal in swimming at the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea. Lang has applied lessons that he learned during his swimming career to his time as CEO at Vocera (NYSE: VCRA), a healthcare communications company.

According to Lang, running a company over the years has many similarities to the hard work that goes into training for the Olympic games. “Life has a lot of ups and downs, and there’s a lot of hours that go into success. Whether it’s taking a company public, or winning a gold medal, the media focuses on the single event, but the reality of life is that it’s the day in and day out effort that goes towards that.”

Another critical lesson he learned is how to recover from a setback. As the defending champion at the NCAA swimming championships his junior year, he was the favorite to win, but was disqualified after a false start in the prelims. Instead of getting discouraged, Brent’s coach gave him the chance to lead off the freestyle relay and Lang’s time proved that he was still the fastest swimmer in the pool that day. “Everybody fails, everybody loses, and the key is how quickly do you recover from that experience. What do you learn from those failures?”

Lang is known as a quiet leader. Though he’s learned how to effectively rally the team and be the “cheerleader” when necessary, he prefers leading by example to loud displays. He says, “If you’re authentic and you’re speaking from the heart…people can relate to that and really appreciate that. I’m able to connect with our employees much more effectively by being true to myself and authentic in my leadership.”

With any board of directors, there are differing personalities and opinions to weigh, and many CEOs struggle with this balancing act, especially if they’ve never reported to a board before. Over the years, Lang has seen his relationship with the board evolve. “They don’t speak with a single voice, and you can’t please all of them all of the time. The key as a CEO is listening to the input and trying to glean the key experience sets that can then be applied to our business.”