According to a study of 400 female leaders on four continents, women with a background in sports are perceived as better leaders by women in leadership positions (click here to read the study published on October 10, 2014, and here to view summative graphs and charts). These leaders see athletes as team players whom they characterize as determined, and presenting a strong work ethic. Of the 400 subjects, 61% say sports contributed to their career success; 74% believe a background in sports will accelerate a woman’s career. The top three leadership abilities they see sports involvement developing are motivational and team-building skills as well as the ability to see projects through to completion. They view a competitive disposition as an asset. Most are likely to be influenced by a job applicant’s sports background in their hiring decisions.
This particular research examined women only. My research examined the lived experiences of male and female leaders who are avid exercisers (Transformational Leadership and High-Intensity Interval Training). Both male and female leaders in my study are team-oriented. They are focused, disciplined, and see projects through to completion. Much like the leaders in the above study, they are competitive, and direct these spirited energies toward improving themselves and the units for which they are responsible. Their love of community in their HIIT practice translates to team-building in organizational application.
Taken together, one cannot claim a causal relationship between athletics and better leadership. What these studies do suggest are perceived connections between one’s athletic background and effective leadership among leaders with such a past. These perceptions are worth exploring further, and in a broader context. For example, it would be interesting to compare multiple measures of leader effectiveness (organizational performance indicators, employee engagement levels, etc.) among subordinates, board members, and other organizational stakeholders for leaders with and without athletic backgrounds.
Despite the need for more research, one should not dismiss the benefits perceived by leaders with a background in sports. They possess expertise concerning their own careers and what has influenced their successes. I hope that they do not bring bias to their hiring decisions, particularly if they seek to hire a candidate with an athletic background when athletics are not valid predictors of job performance.
Research on the benefits of exercise across many domains abounds. My hunch is that exercise improves how we lead. Exercise is not the only path to effective leadership. However, if it becomes a proven tool to increase one’s leadership capacity, aspiring and current leaders ought to take note.
Copyright © 2014 Carol R. Himelhoch. All rights reserved.