How to Become an Elite 'Athlete' (In Work and In Life)

Published on Forbes 1/31/2014

With the Super Bowl right around the corner, it is interesting to note that many great athletes endured tremendous failure in their early years. What they learned from those failures actually helped them to become champions. Mistakes are opportunities to learn and become better.

Last October, I shared an article entitled, “Why You Should Fill Your Company With ‘Athletes’.”

When I mention an “athlete” in business, I am referring to the athletic traits (akin to leadership traits) that help make any individual an exceptional hire and a long-term asset to the team. Always remember that you can “train a skill,” but you cannot “train a personality.”

The traits that we look for at our employee-owned company Fishbowl are:

  1. The drive to practice a task rigorously, relentlessly, and even in the midst of failure until they succeed.
  2. The ability to achieve their goals. They don’t complain or blame others when problems arise.
  3. An emphasis on developing new skills.
  4. An exceptional entrepreneurial spirit and the desire to get back up after a hard hit.
  5. Constant striving for balance and caring more about the team than individual fame.
  6. The ability to work well with partners and in teams.
  7. A sincere desire to overcome mistakes, make amends, and do better each day not only for themselves but for other others around them.

I have noticed that many talented work athletes spend their entire career wondering why they don’t make it to the top (elite) level. This often happens because they have not developed the characteristics that are found in elite athletes or they have not had a mentor, colleague or role model to help them see what characteristics they lack. Often, it is a simple blind spot that they need to be made aware of.

It is vital for an individual to discover and then to master these elite characteristics in order to reach their potential.

Elite “Athletes” share the following traits:

1. An “Off the Charts” Level of Dedication

Their dedication goes beyond what is expected just to adequately complete a task. An elite athlete reaches for much more than “baseline performance” and will dedicate their time and energy to shaping their talents and perfecting their craft.

2. They Are Servants/Leaders in All Aspects of Their Lives

Elite athletes will operate this way throughout their life. It is the ability serve those who they lead and/or who they are colleagues with and to sacrifice themselves, if it helps a greater cause. They think of others first and focus on what they can contribute, not what they can take away from something. This is what makes them great team players and great leaders, often called “influencers.” There are many examples of leaders who don’t demonstrate this attitude, unfortunately, and they are the ones who ultimately never become elite athletes.

3. They Possess Outstanding Communication Skills and the Ability to Empathetically Listen

The ability to absorb, process, and share information can make the difference between being an average worker and an elite athlete.

4. They are eager for more

An elite athlete knows how to keep the fire burning so they are always passionate about their work. “One More” is a favorite term of elite athletes. They are excited by the prospect of having even just one more opportunity to make their mark on the world and improve others’ lives in the process.

5. They are humble and full of quiet self-confidence

Elite athletes have confidence in themselves to succeed, no matter what! This allows their dedication and motivation to flourish. Often, this level of humility and confidence is contagious and has a positive impact on everyone around them. When the going gets tough, elite athletes intuitively understand that sometimes the secret to success is not to get tougher but to employ all the attributes listed above. When elite athletes face troubled times, they actually become kinder, more thoughtful, empathetic, and understanding.

There you have it – our recipe for developing elite athletes. The secret is that it is easier than one thinks. Most things in life are if you have the right attitude. I have made a lot of mistakes in my life and yet I hope to be remembered for how I worked to make amends and never stop learning.

One of the most important attributes of a great athlete is also how he/she helps others when they are injured or off their game. In the world of work, it seems like when a player is down that we walk past them instead of stopping to lift them up and support them. An elite athlete makes up for an injured player until they can return to their post.

We can learn a lot of about work by watching football. Enjoy the game this weekend and share a comment below.

Return to Articles