This Is Why Former Athletes Make the Best C-level Executives

This Is Why Former Athletes Make the Best C-level Executives

It’s no secret that many CEOs have something in common: they are former athletes. From Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, who played college rugby, to social media mogul Mark Zuckerberg, who was a fencing champion in high school, athletes are more likely to transition into leadership roles.

Ernst & Young studied over 800 C-level executives and found that, in particular, an impressive 90 percent of women sampled who played sports were more likely to end up in executive roles later on. On the surface, it may seem as though athleticism and C-level positions have very little in common, but as you’ll soon see, nothing could be further from the truth.

Brian Moynihan (center) | Image by Financial Times | Flickr

Athletics and Business Have a Lot in Common

Through competitive sports, athletes learn life skills that can help them in other areas of life, especially in the professional realm. Traits like perseverance, teamwork, and effectively handling adversity are necessary to be successful in the C-suite. Athletes must develop methods for overcoming fear and recognizing the non-verbal cues of their opponents. These are critical skills for running a company and thriving in a competitive global economy. Athletes are also used to accomplishing tasks quickly and managing the time constraints of the game.

Executives without a background in sports may not have had the experience of having to compete for each win and deal with the pain of public defeat. Additionally, since most organized sports have coaching staff, athletes are exposed to the concept of mentorship early on, thus realizing how a mentor can shape their careers going forward.


Playing Sports Builds Strong Character

Anyone who has participated in sports, especially on a professional level, can attest that athleticism builds character. Many well-known athletes went to great lengths to achieve their success, often rising before everyone else and going to bed late, adhering to special diets, and enduring physically and mentally grueling training regimens. Without a doubt, these experiences were challenging at the time, but being able to persevere built character.

A strong character can be utilized in a variety of situations, and in a business environment, strong character is especially important when it comes to networking. One Northwestern sociologist even noted how former athletes are more likely to be hired if they played sports that have a strong association with Ivy League schools, including field hockey, lacrosse, and tennis, to name a few.


Use Sports to Highlight Your Experience

While some executive search firms may advise applicants to omit extracurricular activities from their resumes, other human resources experts actually believe including sports should be encouraged. In addition to stating professional and educational accomplishments, those seeking C-level positions may find it beneficial to include participation in athletic endeavors as well as any associated awards, records, or special recognition.

When looking for the perfect C-suite candidates, today’s companies are looking at more than just how many degrees people have earned or what professional positions they have held. Hiring committees want to see what candidates have done outside of that, such as how they’ve handled difficulty and their overall attitude about life. These things can’t necessarily be determined from reading a list of past employers and associated job duties.

The fact of the matter is, when candidates are seeking C-level positions, the majority of them will be highly-qualified already. However, what will set them apart is what else they’ve accomplished. Participation in sports can be a way to tip the scales.

Executives are interested in working with those they can trust and with whom they share common interests. For applicants, a background in sports can also be an effective icebreaker during an interview, helping reduce jitters. Additionally, sports can lead to the discussion of not only triumphs, but also what it took to attain those successes, including any disappointments experienced along the way. Demonstrating the tenacity to handle hardship when things don’t go your way may give potential employers a favorable impression.

Getting to the C-suite is often a rigorous and challenging process, much like playing sports at a high level. There are plenty of success stories that involve athletes making successful transitions to executive roles and there’s no reason that more athletes can’t do the same thing. Athletes are capable of overcoming odds and have a lot to offer the business world in terms of skill, ability, and determination. Former athletes seeking high-level positions should enlist mentors to assist along the way and use the character traits that were developed as an athlete to propel them to the next level.

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