Many of us (athletes or not) are moved by stories of athletic pursuits that translate into lessons of transformational leadership. But what if you tried an athletic pursuit for yourself, as a way to build leadership skills and business success?  What is the connection, and is it just available to the elite athlete? In fact, you don’t have to be an athlete at all; transformational leadership lessons are available at all levels of fitness effort.

Fitness as a competitive advantage

The evidence that fitness leads to business success and transformational leadership is building, and the assertions that proficiencies from a fitness regimen actually create a business advantage are getting louder.

In May 2013, the Wall St. Journal ran a front-page article titled “Want to be a CEO? What’s your BMI?” BMI is Body Mass Index (don’t worry, I work out, and I didn’t know either), a measure of fitness. This story and many others make the point that fitness is no longer a “nice to have” and only for athletes. Fitness confers an advantage and may increasingly be a requirement for leaders in business.

The numbers speak for themselves

In May 2013, Ernst & Young conducted a global survey of 821 senior managers and executives from a wide range of sectors. The firms all had annual revenues in excess of US $250 million and 54% of males and 44% of females were C-level or board-level executives. Almost all senior managers and executives participated in sports or fitness at some level. Among women currently holding a C-suite position, 96% had played sports in school.

It seems that a predilection for sport or fitness can start early. An earlier survey of over 400 senior businesswomen[1] showed that 81% of business leaders played organized team sports growing up and continue to be physically active. More than half believe that sports assisted in the development of their leadership, helped them deal with failure, and gave them a competitive edge. The vast majority (86%) believe that sports helped them to be more disciplined.

Your career advancement is about the whole you

In business, stamina is needed. Multi-dimensionality is a plus. The ability to deal with and get beyond failure is a real strength. Your talent for effectively working with a team, whether you are in charge or not, is a real asset. Where can we learn or strengthen these skills? Consider you can do that at the gym, or training for a race, playing on the field, or some other form of fitness that challenges your body and your mind.

Do you have to be an athlete to be a transformational leader?

Not at all. Non-athletes can sometimes benefit the most. It may be surprising how little it takes to start having your own fitness goals make a positive difference in your life and work. As the saying goes, it’s playing the game that counts the most.



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