What makes someone want to dedicate their every waking moment to a sport? What makes an individual yearn for a gold medal? What makes someone think that they are the best in the world at something? These are all questions that one may ask of individuals participating in any Olympic sport. But when it comes down to it, were they born with traits that would predispose them to an increased possibility of becoming a leader or did they learn skills and have opportunities that made them achieve this level? Northouse (2013) states, “…the trait approach was one of the first attempts to study leadership” and it looks at people being born with a list of many traits that predispose them to greatness. One could argue that Olympic athletes have many of the key traits as described by many researchers as being those that define a natural born leader.
Watching the London Olympics this year, one cannot help but wonder how the athletes achieved such prestige and talent. Northouse (2013), lists 9 researchers and their ideas of what traits and characteristics individuals who are to be called leaders should innately possess.
One of traits that are listed in almost all of the studies cited is intelligence. Think about it, how many plays or strategies would one need to know to be able to challenge the world and be named as number one in your state, country and then the world. In a study by Zaccaro et al. (2004) it was found that most leaders have a higher level of intelligence than their named followers, but not so much higher than they can relate to them. However, intelligence is not the only important trait that these athletes demonstrated over this Olympiad. The next is self confidence.
Self confidence is, “The ability to be certain about one’s competencies and skills…which “includes a sense of self esteem and self-assurance and the belief that one can make a difference” (Northouse, 2012). Picture yourself standing at the edge of the high dive which is 10 meters up looking down at an Olympic sized pool, now add to that thousands of people around you and millions at home watching. Self confidence is a must in this situation. Michael Phelps exudes confidence when he speaks about his swimming and his retirement as he feels that he has achieved the highest he can in his sport. What got him to that point? The answer is determination, the next trait of a leader in the trait approach.
Determination is best described as a drive to get a task completed. In this case, the ultimate goal for these athletes is to be named as number one in the world and receive a gold medal while they stand on a podium and listen to their national anthem. One great example of determination during this Olympics was Oscar Pistorius from South Africa. Pistorius was the first runner to compete in the Olympics with ‘blades’ as he is a double amputee. Pistorius had to overcome not only the physical challenges to running but also the legal ones. This is a very good example of someone who is determined to achieve a goal and lead others by inspiration born of determination. Pistorius also demonstrated the next trait in many of his interviews, that trait is sociability.
Sociability is, “A leader’s inclination to seek out pleasant social relationships” and demonstrate other key traits including being “friendly, outgoing, courteous, tactful and diplomatic” (Northouse, 2013). The Olympics this year were televised as they have been for a number of years. Many people kept saying that they just could not be torn away from their televisions because of the stories of the athletes. The stories of the athletes as presented by the various stations depicted them as people that everyone would like and it helped people to want them to succeed. One of the stories presented was about one of the gymnasts. Gabby Douglas won the hearts of our nation with her charismatic interviews and her friendly outgoing manner. She went on to help lead her team to a gold medal in the team portion of the contest, not to mention her own individual medal in the women’s all around. Integrity was also seen throughout this Olympiad. Integrity is, “the quality of honesty and trustworthiness” (Northouse, 2013). This Olympics there were thousands of athletes from around the world. Gabby’s teammates were all dependent upon one another for the gold medal and this showed their trust in each other and the honesty it took for them to train as hard as they did and put forth their greatest effort.
From swimming to basketball to beach volleyball and gymnastics, innate traits of leaders could be seen throughout this 2012 Olympiad. Integrity, self-confidence, determination and intelligence were all traits that were demonstrated by the thousands of athletes that competed from around the world. This may be one of the most publicly covered demonstrations of leadership around the world. The traits of these natural born leaders were showcased over the course of the games for the world to see.
Northouse, P.G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice: Trait Approach. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Zaccaro, S. J., Kemp, C., & Bader, P. (2004). Leader traits and attributes. In J. Antonakis, A.T.Cianciolo, & R.J. Sternberg (Eds.), The nature of leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.