Common Idiosyncrasies of CEOs and Triathletes

Michael MacNair

Common Idiosyncrasies of CEOs and Triathletes

The traits that triathletes have and need are basically key contributors to success as a CEO. While triathletes and CEOs come from different backgrounds, range greatly in age and often take completely different approaches to training and working, they are all cut from the same cloth. That’s why there’s an instant camaraderie among us as we are all perceived to be crazy. The idiosyncrasies that justify jumping out of bed at 4 a.m. to fit a swim in are the same as the ones who drive the relentless pursuit of the right new hire, system, customer. Here are the common idiosyncrasies of CEOs and Triathletes.


1. We balance a jam-packed schedule. We might not always be OCD, but we know how to stay organized enough to get it all in. Meetings, research, training, our kids’ games, etc. We do work on the indoor trainer, bring research and reading on the plane, know how to plan a bike ride near the soccer field to catch the game. We schedule our routines down to the minute.  

2. We have maximum self-discipline. We are willing to stay up late or get up early to get it done. A few years ago I would relish waking up early to get workouts in. I have learned a bit about myself since then. I actually work from early mornings, workout later in the morning when it is warmer or lighter and then go back to work and back to another workout at day’s end. The bottom line is that a long busy jammed packed day maximizes our self discipline. More importantly, we are prepared to do what we have to do at each of these appointments and are laser focused on getting it done.

3. We have clear goals and are focused on them. When you pick doing an Ironman distance triathlon, that’s a clear and scary goal. You are a goal oriented person and you know what that looks like, when it will take place, it scares you to get ready. The same holds true in business. A big profit goal, growth goal, acquisition goal are well defined so that we have something big to strive for. And we love striving for something big versus just doing things every day. We also make the sacrifices necessary to reach them.

4. We do intervals. Current training trends encourage interval training to improve speed and fitness. Athletes and CEOs can and do use this philosophy to sprint through project requirements with intermittent recovery to improve production of all sorts. Current training trends also encourage recovery as essential to building strength and health. While difficult for many CEO’s, the concept of recovery is making a comeback.

5. We manage pain well. We thrive on the inevitable suffering with strength and grace. We live by inspirational quotes, sayings and mottos. They give us things to think about while we’re conquering the uncomfortable. We also create pain as we don’t just want to participate in a certain race or cross the finish line of a major project, we want to do it as fast or as good as we know we can. If we don’t hit those goals, we commiserate for awhile—then get back to it. We aren’t afraid to fail.

6. We welcome pressure and if there isn’t some they make some. We choose to pressure ourselves by our goals and the training and pain that goes along with it and love to share those stories with other like minded people. My CEO/Ironman friend started Ironman Cozumel by being bitten by a barracuda and had to be removed from the ocean. We love a chance to push our mental and physical boundaries. And we’ll gladly tell you about our battle wounds, from blisters to missing toenails.

7. We love out sport. Triathlons and being a CEO require multiple disciplines. While we might not favor one of the disciplines, the combination outweighs any drudgery. We find both sports (which we think of as one big life sport) inexplicably exciting, no matter how well we perform. It may not sound like it at times but we are smiling inside.  

8. We are competitive and stubborn. We might whine and try every treatment imaginable to get us on the fast-track to recovery, but there is one thing we don’t do, and will never do: give up. We do this because we live for seeing what we can achieve with our unstoppable internal drive. While the podium is nice, we can dismiss why we aren’t there but we’ll admit that we’re also keeping an eye on the person next to us cranking the pace on the treadmill, or trying to overtake us down the length of the pool.

9. We love to share our knowledge and convert our friends. It’s taken us awhile to hone our diets, strategies and routines, and we like to share our successes to make life easier for sport newbies. As CEO’s we share our experiences and insights on blogs like this as we too have gotten inspiration from many.

Any of this sound familiar? It takes one to know one.