5 leadership traits you can learn from international athletes

5 leadership traits you can learn from international athletes

As a business leader, constantly developing leadership traits is key to the growth of your company. No doubt, various resources exist within professional communities that identify and explain these skills.

That being said, sometimes the best life lessons on leadership skills come from people outside the business world.

Athletes inspire us with their drive, dedication and hard work – all traits that translate well into the business world.

Here are five leadership traits you can learn from some of the world’s top sportspersons.

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Embrace the ‘bad days’

“Hard days are the best because that’s when champions are made.” - Gabby Douglas, gymnast, 2016 Olympian and London 2012 Gold Medallist

Douglas, the first woman of colour to win an Olympic gymnastics event, endured tough training schedules and cross-country moves from a young age. Yet, she pushed through and won her first Olympic gold two years later.

As a leader, you’re bound to have bad days. Deals may fail and your employees may underperform. However, dealing with serious challenges will stretch you to your limit and may result in encouraging innovation with new solutions that you may have otherwise overlooked in less turbulent times. Instead of caving in during bad times, remember: what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

Face up to failure

"I'm scared of failure all the time, but I'm not scared enough to stop trying." – Ronda Rousey, mixed-martial artist and judoka, Beijing 2008 Bronze Medallist for judo and 6-time Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) champion

Even the most unbeatable of athletes experience failures – like how Rousey lost to Holly Holm in November 2015 after winning six consecutive UFC championships previously. After going through a rough time, she has recently stated (openly) that she wants her belt back – and the UFC is expecting her to fight again early next year.

Similarly, failure happens to even the most brilliant of business leaders. If failure frustrates you, just remember – it often takes many failed attempts to discover the right business ideas and solutions.

The value of failures in developing leadership traits is that they force you to uncover new insights from what didn’t work the first time round. Failure is also a powerful motivator to continue pushing yourself to the limit. That was Rousey’s motivation as well: "The knowledge that everything good can be taken away at any second is what makes me work so hard."

Take risks

“I have broken more bones than won world titles. If it’s something safe you are after, go swimming.” - Mariana Pajón, BMX cycler, 2016 Olympian and London 2012 Gold Medalist

There are two kinds of leaders in the world – the influenced who follow the status quo, and the influencers who truly lead.

Influencers are not afraid to explore, vocalise and implement new ideas. Even though not every idea might be successful, playing it safe all the time won’t take your business anywhere. Try to position yourself as an influencer. Even if it takes sleepless nights – try to take calculated risks that can help distinguish yourself as a leader.

Prepare well

“If you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail.” - Mark Spitz, competitive swimmer, nine-time Olympic champion and record holder in seven events

A lot of people are keen on ‘finding the winning formula’ to become the next Facebook or Google. However, most don’t stop to think if they’re even prepared to implement the brilliant ideas they’ve thought of. To work smarter in today’s workforce could save your business in the long-run.

Good planning is one of those necessary leadership traits that equips you to recognise the right opportunities when they arise, as well as mitigate failures. Successful business initiatives happen when preparation meets opportunity – without preparation, even the most promising business idea might just slip by unnoticed.

Never say you’re ‘too old’ to learn new leadership traits

“Never put an age limit on your dreams.” - Dara Torres, competitive swimmer, twelve-time Olympic medalist and world record holder in 3 events

In a multigenerational workforce, it’s easy to assume that taking risks by executing new and ambitious ideas are reserved only for energetic millennials. However, that could not be further from the truth - it’s never too late to start something new.

At 41 years old, Dara was the oldest swimmer in the 2008 US Olympic team, and she bagged three silver medals for her country that year.

As a senior executive, your business acumen and corporate experience are important leadership traits that add tremendous value to a company’s success. Consider sharing your valuable insights and experience with more junior employees and consider being a mentor to help them in their career. In return, you might benefit as well by hearing fresh ideas and new insights - a win-win situation for everyone!

Developing your career begins with developing key leadership traits. As we celebrate the determination of the world’s top athletes to embrace failure, risks, preparation and perseverance, follow their footsteps and make your mark in the business world.

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