Home Regular Contributors Rick Tiedemann The Making of a Corporate Athlete

The Making of a Corporate Athlete

Rick Tiedemann

In 2001, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz published an article in the Harvard Business Review called The Making of a Corporate Athlete. This article looked at high performing executives and high performing athletes across a broad spectrum of business sectors and athletic disciplines. In particular, they looked at the behaviours of each cohort and which behaviours impacted on their ability to perform at a high level on a sustained basis. A couple of the key nuggets that I extracted from this publication are:


  • Energy Exertion vs Energy Recovery – It became abundantly clear that athletes understood the performance value of interval training while executives did not. Athletes know that it is during the recovery phase that their bodies heal, strengthen and prepare to perform again. The executive audience disproportionately focused on energy expenditure with only putting in a halfhearted effort towards energy recovery. They are relentlessly linear in this respect and this often leads to burnout because they don’t take time to heal and strengthen.


  • High Performance Pyramid – The athletes tended to have a more well defined behavioural recipe that they applied in a disciplined manner, whereas executives are more random. My experience is that business leaders often have a decent awareness that their behaviours are compromising their health, but they then rationalize them for various reasons.


Jim and Tony identified four buckets or capacities that need to be consciously embraced and harmonized if we want to create the healthiest, happiest and highest performing version of ourselves. These behavioural buckets address our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual capacities. Within each of these individual capacities there are behaviours that will help us to optimize this capacity. An overview of these areas include:


  • Physical – Nutrition needs to be seen as fuel in order for our bodies to perform maximally. Sleep needs to be prioritized as it is the ultimate high performance drug, as is regular exercise.


  • Emotional – It is important that we create abundance for ourselves first thing in the morning. Be a possibilitarian and look at the world through a lens of opportunity. Surround yourself with people that give you joy and take full responsibility for your situations.


  • Mental – Practice mindfulness and no, it won’t make you go soft and cause you to lose your competitive edge. Set some very clear and disciplined boundaries so that your energy exertion behaviours don’t bleed into your energy recovery time. Build a supportive group of individuals around you and create mini-intervals within your day where you can experience joy.


  • Spiritual – Identify your purpose, set targets around this purpose and prioritize your activities so that you achieve these targets. It is also important that we make a shift away from engagements that just create pleasure and over to those that deliver joy.


When I speak for various leadership groups and organizations, we take the time to identify very practical ways that we can adopt these behaviours within a very demanding business and personal landscape. During our time with COVID-19, I have witnessed many business leaders that have chosen to consciously adopt these corporate athlete behaviours and have subsequently told me that they haven’t felt this good in years. This tells me that they have made the decision to burn bright vs burn out and bless everyone in their circles with the absolute best version of themselves.

Please feel free to connect with me if you and your leadership team want to explore the corporate athlete program further. Until then, I wish you the best of health.