Every time I lead a retreat, questions come up about embodying leadership. “How do I boost my confidence at work when no one uses my ideas?” or “What do I need to do to have my presence as a leader felt?” Kathy Kay and Claire Shipman’s book, The Confidence Code, brought science and depth to the conversation on confidence. And some of the lines they share, many athletes know first-hand: “We have control over our confidence,” they write. “We change our brains and rewire them to be more confident. Confidence is essentially a kind of energy that allows us to move forward wholeheartedly. By taking action, we create confidence.”


By practicing and managing our energy, we “wear” our presence and own our confidence — showing people (at the gym, in the office, etc.) that we can accomplish almost anything, no matter the odds. I’ve had the privilege of being an athlete and playing numerous roles in sports such as coach, sports administrator and counsel to many world-class athletes. My friend Diana Nyad (the amazing woman who swam from Cuba to Florida on her fifth attempt) encourages all of us to feel the sensation of “walking like we own the earth.”


My personal realities of grieving my mom and surviving breast cancer and open-heart surgery have each repeatedly challenged any confident walk I could muster authentically. But as Amy Purdy’s TED talk teaches us, we can try on that feeling and pretend we are full of health and spirit — and the confidence will follow. Walking with shoulders back and chin up is a power posture that many of us can try on and often need to muster up at work when it may not be safe to be raw or down.

The power and physicality of presence is one that I am on a mission to have more women embrace. Imagine if we thought about how we can feel strong in our bodies as much as we spent time thinking about our weight, hair or what a current or prospective romantic partner will or won’t like about our body?

Cognitive behavior links our behaviors, thoughts and feelings in an equilateral triangle showing how each influences the other. When we walk into a meeting and our mind is chattering negativity or we are slouching, we may not feel like our presence is shining forth the best representation of our spirit. Similarly, when we make good behavioral choices for our spirit (meditation, walking in nature, journaling, etc.), our feelings will shift and bring our presence to a higher level.

Here are three characteristics of high-performance athletes and some applications that I offer to people who may not have had the chance yet to test themselves physically — or who may have overlooked the connection between their performance as an athlete and their work practices.


Visualize Success

Every athlete goes into a game imagining they will win. They have practiced the same skill for hours on end, they believe in their abilities and they have visualized success. As part of a team, they have a level of surrender and trust that their teammates also have the skills for success. This positive team attitude is led from the top (coach, manager, owner) and expressed on the field by the captain. I could not imagine Serena Williams saying to herself as she walks out on the court, “I am going to lose this match.”

Do This: Whatever your next “performance” at work is, visualize what a “win” looks and feels like. Be specific! Perhaps it’s people applauding a speech, your staff being motivated to work smarter, a proposal being approved or a check or new client coming into the office. Model this behavior in how you stand tall and proud, how you look people in the eye, how you shake their hands firmly and especially how you express a “captain’s positive attitude” to others around you. Your presence is an extension of what you say and think about yourself, so choose your thoughts and words wisely. Know your presence affects others whether you want it to or not.


Practice Discipline and Goal Setting

I can remember at age 12 having a list of basketball ball-handling drills and strength exercises that I would do every day. Each time I got to 10, I would push myself to get to 15 with a new twist on the drill. There’s something to setting a goal, and then seeing what happens when you ask yourself to do more or to do it in a unique way. Putting your goals in writing and reviewing these regularly reminds you why the “daily drills” are important. Right now as I am healing from my heart surgery, I have, hanging over my mirror, a reminder of the five things I know help my body, mind and spirit soar — meditation, stretching, writing, beach walks and qi jong.

Do This: Each time you create something (speech, letter, budget), pay attention to detail and see how you can bring the product to a new level. When you’ve finished a presentation, read it one more time before you go to sleep and one more time when you get up. Repetition and practice makes you better. Put in writing what your goal and intention is for a project, for your career, or for your personal health. Review your goals with friends and colleagues, and encourage them to support you in “doing your drills” to achieve success.

Embrace Risk-Taking and Empathy

There’s nothing like sports to teach you compassion for yourself and others. When a good softball batting average is .350, this means you don’t get a hit 65 percent of the time. In basketball, you’re a great shooter when you miss 60 percent of the time. I share these statistics, and people are amazed. The amount of failure sports teaches us should be a lesson to all. We all need to try more, to take risks and to let go of worrying about the outcome. As Billie Jean King always says, “failure is feedback.” Most good teams or players that have experienced a loss want to get back up and play the next time with a desire to do and be better.

Do This: When the opportunity arises to move a step closer to your goal, don’t hesitate to grab the ball. Failing 60 percent on the court would make you a great recruit for my basketball team! Possessing empathy for people when someone “loses,” understanding the feeling of being on both sides of an issue and having a willingness to take risks: This is the type of emotional intelligence that employers and leaders look for in members of a successful team. When you enter a conversation or negotiation, imagine what it feels like to hear it from the other side of the table. Express yourself with words that honor the experience of the recipient: “I understand that is how it might look or I hear that this could be seen/felt as challenging.”

Remember: There’s an athlete in each of us, because we can all try on an athlete’s emotional sense of purpose, possibility and power.

Who are your fave athlete role models? Tweet us @BritandCo and let us know!

This post was previously published on Levo League by Tuti Scott.

(Photos via Getty)