Athletic C-Suite


As an external contractor to EY (Ernst & Young) and former college tri-athlete (run, bike, swim), I am pleased to see EY’s latest global survey conducted on female leadership.*



52% of the C-Suite women played a sport at the university level, compared to 39% of women at other management levels. (Only 3% of C- suite women said they had never played a sport).

These high-level executive women have learned to “stay in the game” by keeping their “eye on the ball.” In other words, athletic executives know how to work on the task with talented colleagues by focusing on their colleagues’ capabilities; not their personality.  This leads to goal achievement and project completion.  Emotional pettiness is pushed to the sidelines.


Athleticism Leads to Positive Role Models

EY’s findings follow much of the Top 10 leadership traits of positive thinkers in business. Based on Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s work in positivity, Scott Ventrella wrote, “Positive thinkers are tough-minded, reality-based people who blast through problems with energy and zeal.”

Here’s a quick review:

  1. Optimism.  EY found that when the pressure is on, athletes will not be let down.
  2. Enthusiasm.  EY found that athletes demonstrate greater abilities in motivating others.
  3. Belief.  EY found that athletes’ belief in themselves show as ambition and drive. See Michael Jordan’s road to success in 30 seconds:
  4. Integrity.  EY found athletic executives demonstrate a strong “work ethic.” Their word and readiness to “play fair” is uncompromising in the quest to gain a true victory. Former President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity.  Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on…a football field…or in an office.”
  5. Courage.  EY found that 74% describe “competitive” as an asset to their leadership style.  From the battle of brain versus brawn, in David & Goliath, to the modern-day conference meeting, it takes courage to compete and enter an arena where you know there are higher-ranked “players” &/or you are out-numbered by “combatants.”
  6. Confidence.  EY found that the executive women surveyed considered the most important contributors to their current career success included confidence.
  7. Determination.  EY found that athletes are seen as inspiring because of their hard work and determination.
  8. Patience.  EY found that team building and communication skills were developed by sport.  These processes require patience as the Initiator acquires the skill to enable these, and the teammate recognizes the intent behind the approach as the Initiator finesses her leadership.
  9. Calmness.  EY found that most executives believe sport helps them “unwind.”  Losing the mounting pressures from the day by loosening the tightened muscles provides a sense of calmness.
  10. Focus.  EY found that 37% say sport helps them focus on their work.
  11. (I add) Curiosity.  EY found “superior problem-solving ability” to be among their athletic executives. A curious mind leads to an agile mind.


Two Personal Lessons from Sports

  1. High School. There were not enough girls interested in varsity volleyball or basketball (my two favorite team sports) to form two teams.  So, I asked our sole Physical Education (P.E.) Coach if I could try out for boys’ varsity.  He told me no.  I deliberately asked, “Are you saying that I can’t be on varsity, even if I’m better than some of the guys?” Yes. TRANSLATION TO WORKPLACE: Sometimes you may be the best person for the job, and the position will go to someone else.
  2. College. We were required to take a co-ed Health course, which included a two-mile run.  Given that running was my strength, I was at the head of the pack – not the first, but in the top 5.  Upon completion, while those who cleared the finish were hacking and my breath rate was fairly normal, a male classmate approached me and shared, “Here I was running as hard as I could, thinking that I was doing well, and when I looked ahead and saw a woman several runners ahead of me, I thought, ‘Hey! I have to beat her!’”  I replied, “Why not beat the person ahead of you?  The head of the pack?  Your own best personal time?”  (The next closest female classmate, who was mid-pack, shared the same sentiment to me later). TRANSLATION TO WORKPLACE: Sometimes people will use you as a benchmark for their success, to affirm their own identity and out of whatever other subjective reasons.

The ball’s in your court now.


Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners.  We increase retention.  Visit

©Rossina Gil, 2014



Ventrella, Scott, The Power of Positive Thinking in Business.


*”The research report, Making the connection: women, sport and leadership, based on a global online survey of 400 women executives, was conducted by Longitude Research across Europe, the Americas and Asia-Pacific, with the top five responding countries being Brazil, Canada, China, the UK and the United States. Half (49%) of those surveyed were in the C-suite, meaning that they serve on the board of directors at a company or in another C-level position, such as CEO, CFO or COO. The remaining 51% surveyed were in other management positions.”


About Rossina

Thought Partner & Corporate Primatologist

Posted on October 19, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.


    Very interesting!

    Lisa Woodruff Director Turner & Townsend t: +1 615 725 6106 | c: +1 832 659 8827 | Turner & Townsend Inc

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