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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.”


10 Traits of a Positive Thinker: #6 CONFIDENCE


Confidence is one of ten traits exhibited by positive thinkers, as listed by positive psychology author Scott Ventrella, and the 6th one in our 10-part seriesThe others are the following:  1. Optimism, 2. Enthusiasm, 3. Belief, 4. Integrity, 5. Courage, 6. Confidence, 7. Determination, 8. Patience, 9. Calmness, 10. Focus.

This blog addresses Confidence in Leadership.  If you can answer “yes” to the following questions, you may be a leader who demonstrates confidence in the workplace…

  • Do I “look inside my own memory” and retrieve evidence that will only encourage me to move forward with my action planning?
  • Am I aware of the difference between confidence and arrogance/hubris?
  • Are the goals I pursue in alignment with my values?
  • Do I ensure that fear &/or feelings of inferiority don’t drive my actions?
  • Am I comfortable with my decisions, knowing that there are those who oppose my judgment?

Confidence comes from the Latin fidere, meaning “with trust.”  Self-confident people inspire trust and influence others in the process of exuding confidence, this is the core of any business transaction and solid relationship.   Low self-confidence is self-destructive and usually manifests itself as negativity.  People with high self-confidence are usually positive thinkers.  And, those who project confidence and hold a negative perspective are most probably overcompensating for an inferiority complex that exhibits signs of superiority; or vice versa, a superiority complex that exhibits signs of inferiority from time to time.  This is where Belief (positive trait #3) overlaps with Confidence…Wikipedia: “Belief in one’s abilities to perform an activity comes through successful experience and may add to, or consolidate, a general sense of self-confidence.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, includes self-confidence as one of the three hallmarks of self-awareness – along with a realistic self-assessment, and a self-deprecating sense of humor.

Here are some other ways to recognize whether you &/or your peers have been demonstrating signs of self-confidence, or the lack thereof:


Low Self-Confidence

Adhering to your values/beliefs, despite possible criticism(s).  E.g. “This strategy requires further exploration, because it sounds more like self-promotion than a strategy.” Governing your behavior based on what other people think.  This is sheep-mentality.  E.g. “This strategy came from the CEO, so we are good to go by following it!”
Takes risks, and knows when to not be so accommodating. Stays in comfort zone, fears failure, and so avoids taking risks and taking charge of situations where s/he needs to assume control.
Admits mistakes, and learns from them.  E.g. “Yes, I have grown in my position and realize that I have to overcome personality conflicts and have learned to respond as an adult professional.” Denies mistakes, and/or attempts to fix them before anyone notices.  E.g. “I do not know what you’re talking about!  I did not say that!  I don’t know anything about that former employee asking for his job back!”
Demonstrates self-assertiveness by sharing feelings/thoughts. E.g. “I am concerned that your presentation is half an hour over the time limit, which will prevent us from discussing all topics.” Holds resentment and anger against others for days/weeks or longer while practicing victim-speak.  E.g. “You made me angry, because you were so rude to interrupt my presentation last week before I had a chance to finish!”
Accepts compliments graciously. “Thanks, I really worked hard on that program/project.  I’m pleased you recognize my efforts.” Dismisses compliments offhandedly. “Oh, that was nothing.  YOU are the one who can teach me what I need to know!”
Realizes that others are entitled to their opinions.  They appreciate the diversity of thought, and recognize that it can stand alone, even if it vastly differs from their own.  Seeks out relevance to work-related issues.  E.g. “You thought it was great; I didn’t.” Feels threatened by others’ opinions and takes them personally, even if they are not work-related, &/or criticizes behavior irrelevant to work.  E.g. “When you mentioned the chicken was not ‘authentically Mexican’ at our off-site lunch last week, I took it as a sign of arrogance that you are well-traveled.”
Good is good enough…for now.  There is a constant strive for excellence, yet recognizing we all have to start somewhere!  E.g. “You did exceedingly well, and for these reasons (x, y, z)…now here’s where we can go with it (a, b, c)!” Hyper-stresses perfectionism, as opposed to high quality, as the only option.  Even though all indicators show success, there is extreme dissatisfaction.  E.g. “You can’t just start down here (lowered hand), you need to start up here (raised hand).” (disgruntled body language)

Power Posing

While positive psychology theologian Norman Vincent Peale referred to the “as-if” psychology as one way to increase our confidence, social psychologist and Harvard professor Amy Cuddy agrees that we can “fake it ’til we make it.” She calls the ability to increase self-confidence through body language “power posing.”  She claims that if we hold the “V” posture (arms raised upwards) for as little as two minutes, we can perform better in job interviews, cope better in other stressful situations, and take more risks confidently.

This research isn’t new since we already have established as scientific fact the discovery of the Duchenne smile, named after 19th century French neurologist Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne (de Boulogne) – who found that there are different facial muscles which can produce a genuine smile versus the muscles that offer a fake smile.  However, Duchenne found that either smile (genuine or fake) can lead to an improvement in morale.  Likewise, Cuddy found that “power posing” can adjust testosterone and cortisol levels and trick the brain into producing healthier FEELINGS and behaviors (ACTIONS).

Trust in others; start with yourself.  Strike a pose.

Thank you.

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator. 


Amy Cuddy, Ph.D.

Daniel Goleman, Ph.D. Emotional Intelligence (New York, NY: Bantam), 1995.

Norman Vincent Peale, D.D. Why Some Positive Thinkers Get Powerful Results, 1986.

Scott Ventrella, The Power of Positive Thinking in Business (New York, NY: Fireside), 2001.

©Rossina Gil, 2013