November 2023

Experience diversity: Changing perspectives in wheelchair tennis

If you want to develop as a manager, you should always be on the move mentally. This also includes the willingness to be open to the perspectives of your employees and fellow human beings in general. In my opinion, empathy and sensitivity are fundamental skills for leading people in a meaningful way.

I recently had the opportunity to challenge my body and mind at the same time. In addition to a completely new sporting experience for me, I also took away some exciting perspectives on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I). And it goes without saying that this triad is essential for a contemporary understanding of leadership. And this much in advance: this experience has once again made me realize how important it is to occasionally look at the world, or at least parts of it, from the perspective of other people.

Warming up: My first tennis experience

I recently had the chance to try out wheelchair tennis for the first time. It was a completely new experience for me in more ways than one – I had never played tennis at all before. So it was best to warm up well and give it a go, I thought to myself. When sport, mental and physical fitness and new perspectives on DE&I come together, it has to be a rewarding experience. And for my understanding of leadership as well as for my personal development.

Matchpoint: The sporting challenge of wheelchair tennis

As a beginner, wheelchair tennis was a particularly challenging variant for me. Unlike playing without a wheelchair, you don’t have your hands constantly free for the racket, but first have to keep the wheelchair moving. Reaction speed and pace therefore play a particularly important role.

My first ever tennis experience was therefore quite tricky: I couldn’t move as quickly as I was used to and I also had to keep my eye on the ball and keep the racket under control at the right moment. It remains to be seen whether I have any great tennis talent. But in any case, it was an enriching experience that I really enjoyed.

Cool down: My findings after sport

In addition to the sporting aspect, wheelchair tennis gave me a very compact impression of the coordination required to move around in a wheelchair at all. And then to chase after a small ball quickly!

Of course, you can’t claim to have full insight into the lives of people with physical disabilities after a sports session in a wheelchair. However, being open to such a new experience broadens a manager’s view of other people and the realities of their lives.

Diversity is the most common buzzword in the DE&I triumvirate and is often used in professional life to refer to skin color, age or gender. There is nothing wrong with this, quite the opposite, but there are more facets than these. People with physical or mental disabilities must be given just as much importance in our thinking.

Good leadership means being open to other realities of life

And in my view, this is precisely where the responsibility of a good manager lies: always being open to new perspectives on the lives and working environments of others. To be able to empathize with them as much as possible, especially if their life realities may differ from your own. To have a broader view of the challenges that people in other life situations may face at work.

I have already had employees with different physical disabilities in my team. Treating them not equally, but rather as equals, is a matter of course. Anyone who sees diversity, equity and inclusion as a management task should approach it with an open mind and be ready for new experiences. And if a game of wheelchair tennis is the right way to get an impression of other people’s lives, then it’s time well spent.