What Is The Best Predictor of Successful Leadership?


Bill John knows leadership. He is a Vietnam Vet credited with a Mig kill as a naval aviator and who later commanded a combat ship. I asked him how he identified future leaders.

Past success in sports.

Your Business Blogger is honored to advise senior leaders. I once had a conversation with Bill about mentoring managers.

Rules-bound games are the key. Leadership skills start early in sports, he said. Sports leaders pull their teams together to reach a common objective. They learn these skills at a young age… and are accurate predictors of leadership talent.


The Dude with the Wildcats a few seasons ago

Bill John’s analysis mirrors the philosophy from another military hero, General Douglas MacArthur, who was the West Point Superintendent for three-years in the early 1920s.

From AmericanHeritage on MacArthur. It is noted that some of,

…[H]is eloquence is on display over the main entrance to the gymnasium. Some blank verse that he penned as Supe memorializes the strenuous regimen of intramural athletics that he imposed on his alma mater:

Upon the fields of friendly strife

Are sown the seeds

That, upon other fields, on other days

Will bear the fruits of victory.


Thank you (foot)notes:

Management Training Tip: When evaluating new entry-level management trainees, ask about sports participation.

Be sure to visit the Panzer Commander who plays all manner of contact sports. And asks the question no parent would like to hear, Dad, what’s my blood type?

Full Disclosure: Bill John is a cousin.


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5 Responses

  1. Pat Patterson says:

    Interesting that it appears that if you want to work your way up and run a company than a background in athletics is important. But if you want to start a company, ie., Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, Henry Ford, or any of the guys at Google or AOL then concentrate on the books.

  2. Jack Yoest says:

    Pat, I’m not so sure about Gates hitting books; dropping out of Harvard — not that there’s anything wrong with that. I would submit Gates owes his success to his dad’s teachings and his mom, Mary, sitting on the same non-profit board as the IBM CEO. Hence greasing the skids for the operating system deal twix MicroSoft and IBM.

    Henry Ford is a hero to us all. Well, maybe not if one is Jewish. But I am not so sure Ford appreciated the Great Books. He once testified under oath, that “History is bunk.”

    I would feel so much better about the giants in wealth creation — the Warren Buffett’s and the Jack Welsh’s — if they could treat the women in their lives as well as they enrich their stockholders.



  3. Pat Patterson says:

    Of course they were and are selfish people as that is one of the things that animated them. I should have added that the ability or lack of ability in dealing with hierarchical organizations forced them to operate in the realm of entrepreneurship. But I can also cite dozens of founders that treated their wives well, gave to charity, etc., but showed absolutely neither interest in working well with others or playing within the rules of business, war or games. Carnegie, Morgan, Vanderbilt, Edison, Rockefeller, Giannini, Hewlett and Packard(though of this list Hewlett was the only one who served) and my favorite Ben and Jerry.

    If I was an investor I would want the people you describe to run the company but I’d give the money to the ones I mentioned to create it.

  4. Francie says:

    Particpation in sports certainly helps one learn how to work within a system and play for a team – definitely transferable to success in the work world. I question whether it is the BEST predictor of a successful leader, though. I think successful leaders use experience in team-building (which can be learned off the field, as well)in conjunction with outstanding mental faculties. Both take discipline.

    This discussion raises my curiosity to see if there have been credible studies done linking sports leaders to leadership success, in general.

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