Understanding the Athlete DNA

Find the Right Fit

In your sport, it is important to find a position that best suits your talents. In your career, it is no different; you want to find the occupation and work setting that best fits your personality and athlete DNA so you can maximize your chances of career success and satisfaction.


The better the fit, the more satisfied you will be, and the longer and better you are likely to work in your chosen career. A poor fit creates unhappy workers and employers. The best way to optimise the fit is to identify and articulate what you do well. Be sure you communicate your transferable skills and abilities, what you like to do (your interests), what is important to you (your values), and how you typically interact with others and with the environment (personality style).


People who are highly successful and also love their work year after year spend most of their time at work engaged in activities that make use of their strongest abilities and match their personalities. They spend very little time performing functions for which they have no special gift or interest. Their lives are concentrating on doing what they do best. The people that you know who are both successful and happy with their work have found their natural self-expression; their talents and personalities are perfectly lined with what they do.


Every Athlete Benefits Greatly From Their Sports Participation

In my experience, leadership and the concept of teamwork aren’t bestowed solely upon the most talented athletes. In fact, the greatest captains/leaders I’ve worked with were not their team’s most gifted or outstanding players. It was always apparent to me who were the difference-makers in the locker room, on the bench, and on the field of competition.


Interestingly, it’s often hard to qualify what “success” is as athletes move forward into their working lives. I’d suggest that many of the athletes I’ve worked with have become enormously successful within their chosen field without necessarily becoming CEOs, renowned innovators, or independently wealthy. It is readily apparent that these athletes have learned valuable lessons from their participation in sports.


When contacted by a potential employer about one of my athletes, I always comment that while I can’t determine what that individual’s aptitude is for the job in question, I can clearly and confidently comment about their core values, dedication, ability to handle adversity, honesty, integrity, loyalty, etc. Most often, the person on the other end of the phone is speechless. In a fifteen-minute phone conversation, they’ve learned more about that individual than a dozen interviews would have revealed.


The sports environment is clearly a place where one develops rapport, and it’s also a proving ground for the kinds of skills a leader needs.  I think there’s a lot to be said for individuals who managed participating in sports with academics, with part-time jobs and/or family commitments. There are time-management skills involved, and certainly social development skills, not to mention confidence, self-esteem, and the ability to deal with difficult situations.


But watch out…Athletes have become conditioned to a fast-paced, varied environment. Job burnout is a real risk for athletes, so selecting the “right” career and job interest is paramount to longevity and job satisfaction.


What Can Athlete DNA Do in the Workforce?

I believe (as most organizations do) that motivated, directed, self-aware athletes can achieve quality-driven results when measured against clearly established goals—and much more so than non-athletes. I call this the “Won-Loss Effect.”


Athletes who have competed at the college level or beyond possess a vast knowledge and experience and what it takes to compete and to win or lose. In athletics, there are rarely any ties; always a winner and loser, and by the time a college athlete completes their eligibility, they have amassed hundreds of win-lose situations where something was learned as a result of the outcome.


Highly competitive athletes are rarely satisfied with being mediocre and are always looking to better themselves. Once collegiate athletes hang up their cleats, they shift their attention to the workforce using the same principles that made them successful as a student-athletes. Athletes seldom lose the passion of always trying to improve themselves to get to the next level. Most people want to get to the next level but do nothing to get there; that is what makes athletes truly elite, because they know what it takes to get to the top.


Athletes have a basis of many years of training to achieve the best personal and/or team performance they can throughout their career. Their tenacity and determination complement their will to succeed by performing the absolute best on an everyday basis. This noteworthy training and performance provide the athlete with an opportunity to identify areas for improvement and learn new skills.


Athletes that have competed at the college level understand firsthand that teamwork, development, and hands-on practice serve as a terrific supplement to the academic aptitude they earn in the classroom. Utilizing a strong work ethic and mental toughness, focused student-athletes develop well-polished traits that are desired by organizations nationwide. Student-athletes have an ultimate desire for success in the work force because it fulfils the need to challenge, compete, and win!


Five Steps Towards Alpha Growth

If you have concluded you might be an Alpha leader, here is some food for thought on what it will take to fit more comfortably in the workplace after your playing days are over.


To change, the Alpha athletes (who become Alpha leaders) must become more aware of their own motivations, more open to their peers’ contrary opinions, and more comfortable with public challenge. Scary thought, but you must also learn to deliver feedback that is useful rather than traumatic. If you see yourself as an Alpha, focus on these five goals that will help you become a motivational leader rather than a cage fighter:


1. Admit vulnerability.

When Alphas admit they are afraid or ask for help, the impact on their team is profoundly positive. Disclosing your imperfections will be an uncomfortable stretch, but that action will humanize you in the eyes of the team and make you more inspirational to the rest of the organization. When you disclose the traits you are working to improve, it helps convince your team that you are serious about changing.


2. Accept accountability.

Alphas tend to feel very accountable for their own performance, but they have difficulty accepting responsibility for their impact on other people’s performance. Until you accept ownership for your share of a problem, problems will not get corrected. Paradoxically, when you admit you’re wrong and need to change, you will come across as more confident and courageous than when you insisted you were always right.

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More on Alpha Females

Like Alpha males, some Alpha female leaders do have problems with anger and bullying, and they can be defensive and resistant to criticism. However, the work environment (and society as a whole) is much less tolerant of these negative characteristics in women than in men. As a result, far fewer women with these tendencies ever reach executive positions.


Because women more readily understand the importance of positive motivation and the limitations of fear-driven cultures, they are less likely to avoid interpersonal issues. They may not enjoy delving into the touchy-feely zones anymore than Alpha males do, but they are more willing to do so because they understand that inspiring and motivating people are just as important as pursuing the right ideas.


Female leaders are less comfortable with conflict, while Alpha males thrive on it. When the Alpha male doesn’t like something, he states it loudly and clearly. A female leader can be less willing to force an issue publicly if she doesn’t anticipate quick assent. Being more interested in collaborating and finding win-win solutions, she’ll happily debate an idea until someone’s emotions are triggered, at which point she’ll typically back down rather than press toward resolution. This indirect style of communication is often misinterpreted by male peers; in fact, some female leaders have been accused by peers of being political and having hidden agendas. Strong women leaders should be aware that their indirect style can engender distrust among certain kinds of men. If you are a female, remember that what you call “diplomacy,” your male counterpart may call “politics.”