What Alex Kuhn Learned About Leadership From Olympic Training and a Broken Superman Statue
In this series called Member Showcase, we publish interviews with members of The Oracles. This interview is with Alex Kuhn, founder of The Vault, a business leadership accelerator. It was condensed by The Oracles.
Who are you?
Alex Kuhn: I’m the founder of a leadership accelerator called The Vault. Leadership is part of my DNA. At 12 years old, I left home to train for the Olympics with the best swim coaches in the world. By 24, I was one of the youngest head coaches in the NCAA and quickly established myself as a “program changer.”
After early entrepreneurial struggles, I sold a successful weight loss company and became CEO of a fast-growing digital marketing agency. Over three years, we’ve worked with hundreds of clients, or “Vaulters,” on six continents. We amplify unique leaders and align their company culture with the right prospects, clients, and teams so their businesses will be more rewarding and achieve global impact. That’s our philosophy.
What are you more skilled at than most people in the world?
Alex Kuhn: I excel at seeing others’ hidden talents and bringing them out. What bothers me most is when I hear someone tell another person that they can’t do something. I believe that there is a leader in everyone, and I accept everyone for who they are unconditionally.
Being a leader all my life has allowed me to influence others positively. I’m able to motivate them to work hard, inspire them to see a better and brighter tomorrow, and help them discover their ability to accomplish more than they thought possible.
What are the core values that guide your business, and why did you pick them?
Alex Kuhn: Honesty, integrity, and courage. I have seen firsthand that these three values are the difference between success and staying stuck. That’s why the best leaders in the world focus on these values day in and day out.
In the early days of our program, one Vaulter went from zero to a seven-figure business in one year. Another went from being a small-time coach to having one of the largest followings in the health and nutrition industry. They succeeded so quickly because they embraced these values. They were honest with themselves and the effort they put into their goals, they dedicated themselves to their teams, and they never gave up.
What did you learn from your favorite mentor?
Alex Kuhn: Growing up, I carried a bust of Superman for luck to all my swim meets. One day, one of my teammates dropped him, and he shattered on the floor. Furious, I picked up the pieces and figured I’d have to throw them away. But the next day when I woke up, there was Superman, back in one piece. My father had stayed up all night to put him back together.
That’s my father. He taught me to be there for those you love, no matter the time or day. Don’t just work hard, love work, which will set you free. Be quick to laugh and forgive. Those are a few of his values that I live by and hope to pass on. (And yes, I still have the Superman!)
What was your biggest, most painful failure?
Alex Kuhn: When I was younger, I was so determined to reach my Olympic goals that I worked extra jobs in high school and college so I could afford to hire the best sports psychologists and swim coaches. But that dream never became a reality, and it devastated me for a time.
Now I know that none of that time was wasted. Pursuing my swimming career so hard consistently landed me in leadership roles, which still serves me professionally and personally today. Those experiences made me better in all my roles in life, whether I’m running my organization or being a father to my 8-month-old.
How do you define great leadership?
Alex Kuhn: Great leaders hold themselves to higher standards. They understand their talents, but more importantly, they see others’ inherent strengths and put them in positions to apply them. They focus on opportunities and quickly solve problems or outsource them to others who can. They’re able to connect deeply with others — not as a means of persuasion, but because they care about who they are, what they want, and how they’re going to get there.
Finally, the most underrated part of great leadership is a vision. A visionary leader can look to the future, see patterns, and understand where a person or business needs to focus based on where they’re headed.
How do you identify a good business partner?
Alex Kuhn: It starts with understanding the culture you’ve established for yourself and your business. Does this person have a similar vision and values? Do they share your beliefs and philosophies about work and life?
Ultimately, I trust my gut instinct. The best decisions I’ve ever made didn’t just sound right, they felt right.
Which single habit gives you 80% of your results?
Alex Kuhn: I deeply care for others and find ways to make their day better — and ideally, their lives too. That’s more than a habit; it’s the way I live my life.
There is so much talk about “giving value” that many forget the true meaning of making someone’s day better. Yes, that can mean providing insights and advice. But what about just giving a sincere compliment? Are you seeing the best in others and sharing that with them? Are you taking the time to listen and be present for the person across from you? I’ve found that the more I focus on this, the more success I have in my life and business.
What are you working on right now?
Alex Kuhn: Family comes first. I have an unconditionally loving family with an incredible wife and son. I know I’m lucky and never take that for granted.
Professionally, we’ve been working on our proprietary system for years. We’ve had so much success with leaders around the world, and I’m excited to bring The Vault to more ambitious, entrepreneurial leaders. Most leaders do themselves a great disservice because they’re too focused on the tools of the business instead of who is leading it — themselves. We’re changing that.
I’m also training for obstacle course races. I’m an athlete at heart, so I’m always up to some athletic endeavor.
What do you want to be known for, or what do you want your legacy to be?
Alex Kuhn: While I can’t predict the future, I’m clear about who I am. I want people to say that I was a compassionate man who unconditionally supported them and who they wanted to be — that my words and actions uplifted them so much, they felt anything was possible.
I want others to say that I inspired them to think bigger, go further, and dig deeper to find the leader who they could be for themselves and others. That my unquenchable purpose drove me to work hard without stopping, no matter what I faced. That I told my loved ones how much I loved them every chance I got. When it’s my time, that’s the legacy I will have left.