The Favorites Game: The Sport of Leadership

By: Interview by Kristin Clarke CAE

CEO and athlete Mariah Burton Nelson shares her favorite motivators and more.

To be a better leader, you may want consider spending less time in a conference room and more time on the court. Mariah Burton Nelson, a 6-foot-2-inch former professional basketball player who is now executive director of the American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation, has spent years advising others about the superb leadership training provided by sports.

"The best executives are able to focus and build teams and lead," says Nelson, who swims two miles daily and titled one of her six books We Are All Athletes: Bringing Courage, Confidence, and Peak Performance Into Our Everyday Lives. "We're also willing to compete and are excited by challenge and change. Those are qualities I developed as a college and professional basketball player, and I do try to bring that athletic perspective into my work every day."

Mariah Burton Nelson's Favorites

Favorite way to edge out the competition: Be more creative.

Favorite mentor: Mom.

Favorite motivational quote: Forgive yourself immediately for all mistakes.

Favorite volunteer experience: Serving on the board of Mosaic Harmony, an interfaith choir.

Favorite fear you've overcome: Growing old.

Best constructive criticism you ever received: "You can intimidate people simply by standing up."

Favorite cure for all that ails you: A good novel.

Favorite advice you give to career switchers: Follow your heart.

Favorite sports film: A League of Their Own.

Favorite reward: A long weekend in Rehoboth, Delaware.

Kristin Clarke, CAE, is a writer, editor, and researcher for ASAE & The Center. Email: [email protected]