I have a confession to make: I'm competitive. And as it turns out, I'm not alone. A recent study from Ernest & Young found that 67% of women now occupying C-level positions had participated in sports as a working adult -- and 96% had played sports in school or during university. It made me think about how playing sports, especially at a competitive collegiate level, helped me develop my work ethic, leadership skills and entrepreneurial spirit.
Athletes are known for their discipline, teamwork and determination; and many have utilized these skills to guide their successful transition into the business world.
But you don't have to be an athlete to possess these traits: anyone can learn them. Here are some habits and lessons from athletes that can help everyone succeed in business.
Irene Rosenfeld grew up playing sports as a child, pursued athletics at Cornell, and continued with intramural sports after. She writes about this profound impact on her career in her profile in Venus Williams' book Come to Win.
"I'd like to think I could have become chairman and CEO of Kraft Foods even if I hadn't been an athlete, but I truly believe I am a more focused, more competitive, more successful leader as a result of my experience in sports," said Rosenfeld.
Rosenfeld sees her competitive edge as a business advantage that kept her hungry. "A critical part of being an athlete is keeping score. And I think in business, people who keep score, and keep trying to better their scores, perform better."
Keeping score does more than track wins and losses. It creates accountability for you and your team. Whether you're measuring your personal performance, or following your competition -- keeping score pushes you to never be satisfied with just 'good enough.' For many, it's the key to staying hungry, setting new goals and pushing yourself to work harder.
Encourage critique -- and really listen
Professional lacrosse player Drew created HEX, a laundry detergent designed to clean and restore athletic apparel made from synthetic fabrics. One of the best lessons he took from the field? Actively seek feedback.Westervelt leaned on his sports experience when he
"Whether you're an athlete or business owner, customer feedback is similar to watching a film of your performance," says Westervelt.
The years of constant critique were challenging, but it taught Drew invaluable ways to improve his performance and become a better leader. It sounds simple, but asking for honest feedback can help you better analyze your performance and learn from your mistakes. Just as in sports, candid critique can be the difference between good leadership and great leadership.
Don't skip practice
Legendary UCLA coach John Wooden is known as one of the best basketball coaches in history, but despite all his records and accomplishments, his players don't recall their coach talking about winning. Instead he encouraged integrity, and pushed them to learn how to play the game the best they could.
"Winning takes talent; to repeat takes character," said Wooden. With so much pressure for businessmen to constantly perform, they rarely take the time to hone their skills the way athletes do. Taking the time to assess strengths and weaknesses, practice presentations, or even seek outside professional development helps entrepreneurs perform their best during 'game time.'
So come to work with the right attitude: ready to help your team, hungry to learn new skills, and prepared to push yourself harder. After all, there's no greater reward than fulfilling your potential -- and inspiring others to do the same.
Treat every day like game day
For some athletes, game day rituals are essential before stepping on the field. Whether it's a lucky pair of socks or a certain number of taps on a locker, these regular rituals help put them into the right mental state for their performance.
It's part preparation, part anticipation, part excitement. Putting yourself in that head space each morning can help you feel confident. What's your big day ritual? If eating a hearty breakfast, writing a to-do list, running a few miles, or practicing your presentation gives you the confidence to conquer the day, then allow those practices to push you forward. No matter what, you should be excited about conquering the day ahead.
Corporate culture can be fiercely competitive, and there's a lot to be learned from the mentality of the most competitive people in the world. Next time you want to perform like a boss, try thinking like an athlete. Your team will thank you.