Among a few friends of mine who play soccer, I’ve heard similar comments when describing the World Cup’s top players. They talk about “vision,” “creativity,” and “composure” when describing the greats like Messi, Muller and Rodriguez. In watching a few World Cup matches, I agree with my friends and think great leaders possess these same qualities.


I learned at an early age to keep my head up when playing basketball. I still remember my 6th grade basketball coach asking, “How can you see an open teammate up the court if your head is down?” But great vision is more than looking up or being aware. It’s using the vision to create something special.

The World Champion San Antonio Spurs taught us that vision can trump individual super stars. With an ability to make one more pass and find an open teammate, the Spurs soundly defeated the Miami Heat in this year’s NBA finals.

Similarly, the best CEOs are visionaries, Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, among others, see things that we may miss. Their vision challenges us to rethink what is possible or simply surprise us.


The greatest athletes create opening and possibilities where none appear to exist. They make something out of almost nothing, and we marvel at this ability. The best CEOs also find creative ways of reframing problems and testing long held assumptions to create new solutions.

Very few people predicted that when Steve Jobs returned as CEO of Apple Computer in 1997, he would revolutionize the music, digital publishing, phone, animated movies and tablet computing industries. But without Jobs’ tremendous creativity, Apple would not have returned to greatness.


When watching the best athletes performing on the biggest stages possible, I’m always struck by their composure. Roger Federer and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard are two examples of big stage athletes who keep their cool despite the tremendous pressure they are facing.

Many great leaders have this same ability. They remain calm and get the job done (or “carry on” as the Queen has it). This skill takes discipline but can be acquired over time.

One of the best examples of composure is found in Laura Hillenbrand’s terrific book Unbroken, which chronicles the life of WWII hero Louis Zamperini, who survives incredible life or death situations during the war. A pattern emerges as Zamperini (yet again) survives impossibly long odds to live. Whatever dire situation he faces, Zamperini begins by collecting himself. He then develops his plan of survival.

The connection to great athletes? Turns out Zamperini’s was an Olympic runner in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, before he became a war hero. Lessons learned as a top level athlete, including an ability to keep his cool while competing at the highest level, likely helped him survive the war and live to the ripe age of 97.

Contact us if you would like to learn more about the ways vision, creativity and composure can help you and your leadership team achieve new heights at your company.