Why ‘athletes’ make great employees.


The summer season of sport is in full swing. The French open is underway, Rory McIlroy had a stunning victory at Wentworth this week, the World Cup kicks off next month and then onto Wimbledon in July. All this sport has sparked some discussions in the office this week when it comes to employing athletes.

My thoughts, being somewhat sporty myself, is that athletes make the best employees. In this blog I explain why I think you should fill your company with ‘athletes’. I don’t necessarily mean athletes in the literal sense, although here at Stage we do have an ex-professional footballer, a keen runner and some self-proclaimed ‘gym bunnies’. When I say you should hire athletes, what I really mean is hire those with the traits of athletes, those who think like athletes.

Desirable traits of athletes include:

1. They have the drive to practice a task rigorously, relentlessly, and even in the midst of failure until they succeed. Athletes are tenacious—they seldom or never give up. They also have a strong work ethic and the ability to respect and deal with the inevitable issues of temporary pain (along with the intuition to know when the cause of the pain is an issue too serious to safely ignore.)

2. Athletes achieve their goals. If one avenue is blocked, they find another path to success. If their physical strength has given out, they learn to work smarter, not harder. As they learn to become more effective they become more efficient.

3. Athletes develop new skills. Even though an athlete is highly specialized at certain skills, such as speed, blocking, or hand-eye coordination, they are also good at adapting to scenarios that call for cross-functional skills.

4. Athletes strive for balance. Too much junk food and too little sleep will not contribute to a healthy company or a winning performance. Their bodies must be strong and in good condition, so athletes understand that they can’t cheat the system for long and expect positive results. A true business athlete will respect the laws of balance in energy, health, sleep, and nutrition (as well as the business corollaries) that will allow them to succeed in both the short and long term.

5. Athletes work well with partners and in teams. Athletes know how to leverage the unique and complementary strengths of each member of their team. They know that cutting down a teammate is likely to only have negative effects. In fact, an athlete will typically put the needs of the team on equal par or even ahead of their own needs.

How do you find and hire these ‘athletes’? Consider the questions you ask in interviews about outside projects, other interests, community service and the concepts of teamwork. An important aspect to remember when hiring athletes is the world’s best athletes are not necessarily discovered; they are trained. If the passion and drive are there, it is your job to foster and develop those employees into the athletes they are capable of becoming. Everyone deserves the opportunity to discover the “athlete” within themselves.

Inspired my David Williams article for Forbes.com 10/02/2013. Why you should fill your company with athletes.


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