5 Ways CEOs are Like Professional Athletes

CEOs and athletes have a lot in common. Though it’s easy to imagine how the skill sets required of both professions often overlap, extracting the core similarities can help shape best practices and goals for new and veteran leaders. Here are five ways CEOs are like professional athletes:

1. Their performance affects the team

Just like an individual athlete is part of a bigger team, the CEO’s mission is to serve the company. Individual performance has an impact on the group’s ability to succeed and reach the end goal, whether it’s winning the relay race or beating sales revenue from last quarter. Remembering your part in a greater movement can be motivating, even if you’re at the top.

2. They have discipline, determination and motivation

Discipline, determination and the ability to motivate others are qualities that CEOs and serious athletes often share and use to propel their teams toward achievement. The crossover is especially apparent in hiring trends – and not just with male leaders.

A 2014 study by EY Women Athletes Business Network and espnW surveyed more than 400 female executives in five countries (20 percent were U.S. women). Three out of four of the C-suite women executives said that candidates’ involvement in sports influences their hiring decisions because they believe people who have played sports make good professionals. Some of the reasons they believed this were due to skills often learned outside of the classroom, such as discipline and the ability to motivate others.

3. They know the importance of the last push

When the fourth quarter of sales comes around, a leader knows it’s still time to maintain full effort, even if the team is rundown and tired. When you see the finish line, it’s a sign you need to push through instead of slow down. A strong finish sets your business up for even more growth next year and puts an athlete into the winner’s circle.

4. Mind-body coordination is essential

Mind and body coordination seems like an obvious component to being a successful athlete, but science shows it is equally important for CEOs. Dr. Harald Harung and Dr. Fred Travis, peak performance researchers, found an integrated state of brain functioning to be a common neurophysiological signature in the world-class athletes, CEOs and musicians they studied.

This integrated state is achieved through methods like meditating and mindfulness. It requires dedication and ritual. These skills can be difficult for leaders to develop on their own, and finding a mentor or executive coach to lead the way is the best method to developing them quickly.

5. They don’t train to fix, they train to improve

Practice will maintain a skill, but good one-on-one coaching is essential to improving a leader’s performance. Even Michael Phelps has a coach! Stephen Miles, CEO of The Miles Group, said it best in the “2013 Executive Coaching Survey” from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business:

“Becoming CEO doesn’t mean that you suddenly have all the answers, and these top executives realize there is room for growth for everyone. We are moving away from coaching being perceived as ‘remedial’ to where it should be something that improves performance similar to how elite athletes use a coach.”


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