Leaders and Athletes – Ten Things They Have in Common

What does it take to be a leader? What does it take to be an athlete?

I was pondering about these two concepts the other day and several thoughts came to mind. Many of the same traits that successful athletes display can also make a person a successful leader and vice versa. Many traits of successful leaders spill over into other areas of their lives, such as fitness. So in comparing leaders and athletes (or simply people who are physically fit), I came up with ten things they have in common.

Dedication. It takes a huge amount of dedication to continually grow as a leader and hone your skills—ongoing. The same way, 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, for example, if they lose their jobs or a startup failed, but they get up and keep trying.

Goal Setting. Leaders set goals and then work hard to attain those goals. Athletes set goals as well. Each day, each week, month, and year, they strive to become better at their sport. They track their progress and celebrate the small successes as they get to their goal. Leaders do the same. They set goals for themselves as well as for the organizations they lead. They are both focused on their goals.

Discipline. It takes discipline to get up each morning, or go out during your lunch hour, or exercise at night when you’re tired from working the entire day. 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 things happen.

Sacrifice. Every leader, just as every athlete (or fit person), makes daily sacrifices in order to excel as an athlete or be a successful leader. Of course, it’s probably more fun to go out with your friends for a drink, or go shopping, but leaders and athletes see the long-term goal. They have a vision of the finish line but they also realize that both being a leader and staying fit is a lifestyle, a journey with the end being only the end of your life on earth.

Results. Both leaders and athletes want results. They strive to achieve the results they set out to get. The results when you are fit are not only a healthy body but a positive attitude and increased self-esteem along with self-confidence. The results when you are a good leader are the satisfaction you get when you see those you lead grow and being successful. You also feel satisfaction when you see the vision realized.

Drive. Leaders and athletes (and fit people) have the drive to go on. It’s an inner fire that is hard to quench. When you ask them why they do what they do, they simply respond, “Because I want to be a better leader, because I want to be fit.”

Inspiration. Leaders inspire others to be the best they can be. The same way, athletes inspire the young and old to “go for it.” Every time I watch the Olympics, I get inspired to get even better and encouraged to continue the hard work to remain physically fit.

Influence. Leaders are influential because they inspire you to do something. They sell you on the idea of their vision. They help you change your life. They encourage you to grow and help you grow. Athletes and fit people also inspire others to get in shape but when it comes to working out, only you can do it for your body.

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 are humans. They have feelings too and it takes courage to lead, the same way it takes courage to continually exercise to stay fit.

Example. Everyone needs a positive example to improve their lives. Successful leaders and athletes have the opportunity to be examples of all the attributes described above. They both share a tremendous responsibility to be a good example to others who are watching them. Otherwise, their negative example can have devastating consequences for their followers. This holds true for people who lead large corporations or causes and also for athletes who are looked up to by millions of people—usually the youth.

Have fun being a leader and I encourage you to stay fit through your journey!