15 Traits Leaders and Athletes Have in Common | Part 1

There are 15 traits leaders and athletes have in common. What does it take to be a leader? What does it take to be an athlete? In this blog, I describe the similarities so you can identify areas you may need to develop as a leader.

When we think of athletes, we think of teams because typically athletes are part of a team. But we also know that each athlete must perform individually for the entire team to win. Additionally, we associate athletes with being leaders in their respective sports. If you were to refer to your employees as athletes, what kind of athletes are you training for your team? Are they playing the sport that matches their physical abilities? Are you maximizing their athletic abilities by placing them in the right positions? And, are some of those athletes also leaders in their field?

Many traits of successful leaders spill over into other areas of their lives, such as fitness. Similarly, many of the traits that successful athletes display can also make a person a successful leader. So, when comparing leaders and athletes (or simply people who are physically fit), I came up with 15 traits leaders and athletes have in common.

This blog is an excerpt from my book, Bring YOUR Shoes: A Fresh Perspective for Leaders with Big Shoes to Fill, but for the purposes of this blog, I categorized the traits into two groups: Part 1 describes the character traits and Part 2 describes strategic traits.

Part I: Character Traits of Leaders and Athletes

  • Dedication. It takes an incredible amount of dedication to continually grow as a leader and hone your skills. Equally, it takes an amazing amount of dedication to be fit—and stay fit—throughout your life. Sometimes athletes have setbacks, like an injury that needs to heal for several weeks. Leaders have setbacks as well, such as losing their jobs, but they get up and keep trying. What matters is that they are each dedicated to succeeding. They are persistent.
  • Discipline. Discipline is different than dedication. Discipline is doing things consistently and usually at the same time each day so you establish a routine. You can be disciplined to do a specific task consistently, but you may not be dedicated to it if your heart is not in it. It takes discipline to schedule your workout, attend a seminar, or read a book in order to improve your skills—both as an athlete and as a leader. Dedication and discipline work together to make good things happen.
  • Patience. Leaders and athletes are patient. Before you can experience results in any area of your life, you must put in the work, the time, the dedication, discipline, and sacrifice. You need to be patient with yourself and with your staff. Let your employees grow and develop within their abilities. Similarly, athletes must be patient with improving their athletic ability and also to wait for the other team members to improve—both individually and as a team.
  • Inspiration. Leaders inspire others to be the best they can be. In the same way, athletes inspire the young and old to “go for it.” Every time I watch the Olympics, I get inspired to improve and encouraged to continue the hard work to remain physically fit. Leaders and athletes inspire others just by being themselves, by their own example of how they live their lives.
  • Encouragement. Leaders and athletes, many times without knowing, encourage others to improve their lives. At the same time, they also need encouragement from others to continue their journey. Sometimes we forget that leaders and athletes have feelings too, and it takes courage to lead, the same way it takes courage to continually train to stay fit for competition.
  • Listen. Leaders and athletes learn to listen. Leaders learn the business and get to know their employees by listening to them, as a group and individually. They ask open ended questions and then pause to listen to responses. Athletes learn the rules of the game and get to know their team mates by listening and paying attention to the strategies to win the game.
  • Resilient. When you look at the lives of long-term successful leaders and athletes, you will notice that those who continue their journey regardless of all the obstacles and adversities they encounter, are resilient. Resilience is the ability to overcome adversity in your life. If you ever wondered why some people make it and some don’t, that is the answer. Some people possess the ability to bounce back, and overcome failures, depression, and adversity in their lives. I’m paraphrasing the definition of resilience from the Dictionary.com.

There are more “character traits” that leaders and athletes possess, but these particular ones are shared by both. In Part 2 of this blog, I share the remaining eight traits from the 15 traits leaders and athletes have in common.