Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Why Sports Builds Leadership

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Guest post by Jordan Spindler

Leadership is a personal trait that often proves elusive to many people, however is intimately related to personal success. Leaders are at the forefront of their fields; they are respected and quite often wealthy. Leaders also foster social change, and most of our cultural, social and economic progress is the result of leadership.

It’s no surprise that many people would like to acquire this trait and would like to see their children develop strong leadership skills. While leadership remains easy to define and identify, a consistent summation of characteristics that make an effective leader remains elusive. So, too, does the way to impart leadership to an eager young mind.

There are many institutions that propose to teach leadership in different areas, with varying success rates. There are even people who speculate that leadership is an innate trait, and therefore can’t be learned. However, there seems to be something of a consensus regarding the relationship between sports and leadership, at least as acknowledged by governments and industry.

Not just any sport will do, however. Team participation is often cited as an important aspect in using sports to develop leadership skills. In fact, team participation is often more important than the physical component, as a search through the biographies of the captains of industry will show: few of them were High-School Quarterback. They all were on some team, however.

Sports are highly competitive, and their nature is to push enthusiastic participants to achieve more than their rivals. In fact, the basis of competitive sports is rivalry, and it is in this competitive atmosphere of team sports that pushes people towards “taking one for the team”, and fostering team spirit. It is within the cohesion of a team that a captain will stand out and acquire the position of leader.

This doesn’t mean that people who participate in relatively individual activities such as jogging or weight lifting can’t use their chosen sport to improve their leadership skills. For example, one of the benefits of indoor cycling is that you can communicate with fellow spinners while working out, and help build a team. Organizing teams will help motivate the members to get more out of their routine as well as provide leadership opportunities for the team.

Competition is one of the bases that produces leadership, which is why the University of California hosts Leadership Competitions along with other institutions that foster leadership, such as the Rotary Clubs. Competition is a motivating factor in human psychology, and one of the traits of leadership is the ability to motivate people to challenge themselves and meet goals.

Competitive team sports creates and environment where people have to work together in order to achieve their goals. Team spirit and the ability to work with others is an essential part of being a leader. An often overlooked part of leadership is the ability to work within a team, which also means listening to other people and understanding different points of view. Someone who can’t play for the team cannot hope to lead it.

The teams and competition of sports are an analogy of the teams of coworkers and competing businesses that leaders must face in the world. The skills learned in each are valuable in the other. If you’re looking to build your own leadership skills or those of your children, consider taking on an exciting and challenging sport today.

Jordan Spindler is a freelance writer and avid fitness enthusiast. His health and fitness articles have been published in a number of national news publications, including the Houston Chronicle and the San Francisco Chronicle. He is a graduate of the University of California Riverside, and although his degree is in English, his passions are fitness and self-improvement.


The Product Management Perspective: The teamwork aspect of sports fits nicely with product management because product managers are usually very competitive. Use that competitive drive to not only become a great team player, but also the team leader.

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One thought on “Why Sports Builds Leadership

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