Confidence and commitment, essential for leaders and also for Olympians!

Thinking of the critical traits of strong leaders (character, conviction, confidence, competence, commitment, and communication) we discussed in a previous post while watching (obsessively) the Olympic Games during this special moment in time, I am struck by the necessity of pretty well all of these skills for highly successful athletes.

The commentator at the swimming venue last night spoke of the commitment required of the swimmers – not all of whom can win a medal – to have made it to the Olympic Games. They practice in the pool several hours every day. For years and years and years. Their teenage years and years as young adults are pretty well exclusively defined around swimming pools, gyms, special diets, and swimming meets. And the Olympic Games come once every four years. They pretty well give up everything else in their young lives to get to where they are. As do their parents! This is Commitment. And the same can be said for athletes in virtually every sport at a competitive level.

Commitment is having the fire in the belly to work towards your goals. For those who are in leadership roles, it is the drive – again, the fire in the belly – to achieve the goals at hand, for themselves but mostly for their organization and its vision.

David Barrett (, in one of his articles on leadership traits, described Commitment as having 5 components:

  • Commitment to yourself (self-awareness)
  • Commitment to the people you lead
  • Commitment to your organization
  • Commitment to the truth
  • Commitment to leadership.

The main takeaway: you cannot succeed in being a strong leader unless you are willing and able to give it your all, all the time. There is little room for a Reluctant Leader.

The other side of success in sport, which is paralleled in success in leadership, is Confidence. Those of us who spend a lot of time watching sports (I fall squarely in this camp) are well aware of the importance of sports psychologists in making the difference between winning and losing among the very best athletes, most of whom have similar chances on winning until doubt enters their heads. Just ask tennis players … or golfers … or gymnasts.  Name your sport.

Just as elite athletes need self-confidence to bring their A-Game to every tournament or competition, leaders in any domain need self-confidence to be able to successfully execute all aspects of leadership. Being confident takes away nagging doubt that has you second-guessing your decisions. It helps you communicate effectively. Confident leaders are more likely to be viewed as open by those they interact with, which in turn engenders trust.  [Granted, some of you might be forgiven for thinking that some of this sounds similar to the complementary traits of Conviction and even aspects of Character, but then again I did warn you at the outset of this leadership series that there was bound to be overlap among the six traits!]

Can you think of people in leadership roles who have suffered from a lack of confidence or commitment … or courage? Perhaps you have had a personal experience dealing with someone in such a role who is rarely available. Or who is hard-pressed to give a clear response to a question. Or who, not infrequently, has a change of heart after announcing a decision. Sadly, if any of these responses sound familiar to you, you are not alone.

Self-confidence and solid commitment are important traits of successful leaders, just as they are for Olympic athletes. Necessary, but not sufficient. So, what’s the difference between an athlete who scores well in confidence and commitment but doesn’t quite meet the needed level of competence in his or her sport and a leader in the same situation? We all know what happens with the athlete. It’s straightforward. If the athlete doesn’t have the full package, success is elusive. The only person largely affected by this disappointment is the athlete.

People in leadership roles in most domains (politics, administration, CEOs, social movements, etc.) can reach surprising levels of authority based on misplaced confidence and commitment. As necessary as these traits may be, they can also mask significant deficiencies. Unlike in sports, where an individual’s competence is clear for all to see, charismatic leaders lacking in skills, knowledge, instinct, experience, or vision may land in these roles because of too much confidence! Such people may remain in this role for longer than is good for the individual, and especially for all of those he or she is serving. And, having an ineffective leader, unlike an unsuccessful athlete, affects many people.

Bottom line: Confidence and Commitment are necessary traits of successful leaders, but not sufficient. Stay tuned for posts about two extremely important traits: Competence and Communication.

Meanwhile, enjoy the Olympics!!

Photo credit: CTV news


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