Athletes and Business Leaders

10 Common Traits

The Well-Built Triathlete by Matt Dixon purplepatch fitness

Business leaders and professional athletes share similar mind-sets.  This isn’t surprising because elite performance requires plenty of determination.  The gift of physical talent is certainly the ticket to get into the room, but it is these characteristics of performance that help drive the talent toward real and lasting success.  – Matt Dixon; The Well-Built Triathlete, Turning Potential Into Performance

I’m a triathlete.  Why?  Because it’s hard. 

When I first started going to the gym, I got bored.  There is nothing more boring to me than getting up at 5:30 in the morning, putting on shorts and a t-shirt to going to lift weights or run on a treadmill for an hour.  When my Dr. told me that I needed to lose weight I joined the gym, but I was so bored after just 3 weeks I almost quit. 

It was then that I realized something about myself.  I need a goal.  Not just any goal.  For me to stay interested and motivated over a long period of time I need a specific, measurable and most importantly a lofty goal.  In short, I need what Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great” and other business case studies calls a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG).

So, I decided I was going to run a half-ironman triathlon before I’m 50.  I’m 47 now so I’ve got about 2 and half years to go.  After that I just might shoot for a full ironman but one BHAG at a time. 

As part of my triathlon journey I’ve been studying up on the science and technology of athletic training.  Reading a lot and listening to podcasts.  One of the surprising things I’ve noticed is that there are an incredible number of parallels between athletes and business leaders.    

With the help of Matt Dixon’s book, I have identified at least 10 common traits.  Here they are in no particular order:

1 – Be goal-oriented

All top performers, be they athletes or business leaders, have a clear and distinct vision.  Goals may evolve over a career or a lifetime but you can’t achieve positive results without creating and then chasing a vision or set of goals.

2 – Commit to ongoing assessment

Staying on track is key and the best performers are great at personal reflection and self-assessment.  But they also aren’t afraid to look for outside guidance and advice.  It takes courage to regularly assess yourself and let others give you advice.  It takes even more courage to make the necessary changes to your approach. 

3 – Train for specificity

Great athletes have the ability to develop laser-like focus and carve through the noise to execute their plan.  Great business leaders do the same.

4 – Be resistant to adversity

Managing and overcoming adversity is a major shared trait between business leaders and athletes.  It’s not going to be a smooth ride, things will come up that threaten to derail your journey and navigation through hard times is the price of admission.

5 – Have patience

You have noticed I’ve been using the word “journey” to describe the path to success?  I do that because it doesn’t happen instantaneously.  Behind every overnight success is many, many years of hard work.  Patience is a key attribute of every elite performer.

6 – Feed the passion

Achieving good results leads to a high that is unparalleled, but the high doesn’t last long and it won’t create the will to embrace the struggle.  You have to fall in love with the process as much as the results to excel.

7 – Embrace support

No athlete or business leader can go it alone.  No one has all the answers, the best performers are humble and spend time building an inner circle of experts who help drive the bus and maximize performance.  Mentors, guides and a strong support team are common to elite performers across all disciplines.

8 – Achieve balance

Avoid dwelling on either failure or success.  Celebrate victories but keep your emotions in check – yesterday’s achievement can quickly disappear and be forgotten in the face of new challenges.  Life goes on, tomorrow always dawns with a clean slate regardless of what was written yesterday.


9 – Take calculated risks

A willingness to take risks comes in many forms.  It most often involves a willingness to expose your weaknesses and being unafraid of failure.  The best performers are willing to take risks with a purpose to strive for the next level. 

10 – Make time for recovery

Establish a strong platform of health and recovery.  You only have one body and if you don’t take care of it, it will fail you.  Learn to appreciate the value of recovery and recuperation, get enough sleep, eat right, and don’t neglect your family and fiends, they are the people who will be there for you long after you have achieved everything you set out to do and are enjoying the fruits of your labors. 


I’d like to hear from any other athletes/business leaders out there if there are any other common traits I may have missed, let me know in the comments. 

Thanks, see you at the finish line – Lauren

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