Instinctual Leadership – how your personality influences your ability to lead and manage in the sports arena.

Awareness to Action
Mar 16, 2022

by Mario Fernandez and Mario Sikora

Phrases such as “I just don’t think they understand me”, “this seems to always happen” or “how can I get players to be motivated?” capture the sentiment echoed so frequently by coaches around the world. And this is not exclusive to coaches—managers, educators and anyone attempting to share knowledge, spur improvement and facilitate independent lead motivation, constantly find themselves in situations where there’s conflict and friction.

Traditionally, as coaches, we are exposed to many different schools of thought and theories. These concepts enrich the coaching experience, but have a tendency to revolve around the same competencies and talking points: technical and tactical periodization, scouting, sports science, and technological trends. 

However, sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where the obstacles we encounter go beyond competency and tasks. So what are we to do when the majority of skill acquisition and training courses are traditionally based on refining and developing our capacity?

We are often hired for our strengths, and fired for our weaknesses. It is our experience that, more often than not, the conflicts and friction that expose our weaknesses is the reflection of a neglected or maladaptive aspect of our personality.

It is our experience that the trick to overcoming this is to reverse the order in which we habitually learn. We slightly overvalue the execution of tasks and responsibilities when related to competencies; and undervalue the need to comprehend and develop a greater insight about the influence of our personalities when learning these competencies. Ultimately, what affects the coach, staff, or organization, will consequently affect the performance of both the individual and collective. 

Our personalities move us unconsciously towards or away from certain things. The things we gravitate towards could be things we like or do well, or believe we do well. Things we stay away from are things that make us feel uncomfortable or inadequate.

For those who aren’t responsible for leading individuals and managing groups, the implications are less impactful. However, in the case of leaders and coaches, tasked to develop individuals through sport, the implications are greater. 

The Awareness to Action Instinctual Bias framework provides a set of tools that helps us understand how why we gravitate toward certain aspects of coaching and away from others. The term “Instinctual Bias” refers to our evolutionary wiring that created habits essential to our survival for millennia. The Instinctual Biases describes certain patterns in our personalities that help us see strengths and blind spots. Both points are relevant in how we approach our development, and ultimately how it affects what we excel in or not when it comes to player and team development. 

The Instinctual Bias framework is a dynamic solution, but for this article, we will describe what the Instinctual Biases are, provide relatable examples and prompt you to think about how your personality has influenced you in how you lead and manage individuals and group.

So, what are the Instinctual Biases?

The Instinctual Biases are deeply ingrained tendencies to find certain aspects of life more important than others and focus our attention accordingly. They are at the heart of our systems of values—the fundamental biological needs that we care the most about. It’s important to note, we interact with all three of these Instinctual Biases, but have a dominant one that tends to be the north star influencing why and where we spend time. 



Those with a dominant bias towards Preserving tend to focus on ensuring that their fundamental physical needs, and the needs of those they care about, are looked after, and that resources are in constant full stock. Cautious and conservative, keen on traditions, it’s important to revert back to what’s worked for them. Although often very caring and nurturing, when the preserving domain is over-emphasized, the ability to play devil’s advocate becomes destructive, and a guarded approach to everything begins to prevent improvement. 

Leaders with a Preserving bias naturally gravitate to the “nuts and bolts” of things. They can display an immense level of consistency when executing continual processes and tasks. As a coach they can be meticulous in the organization of training sessions, with the ability to clearly define structure and procedures. They are risk-averse by nature, and can be resistant to change. Though structure can make for a good leader in an organization that needs stability, the need to improvise or adapt, commonly seen in training sessions or games, can make Preservers begin to feel a loss of control.  



Those with a dominant bias toward Navigating tend to focus on “orienting to the group,” deeply understanding the inner workings of the group, and everything that consists of the relations. They are attuned to communicating and extracting information, but they can sometimes hold back their thoughts and ideas. This skill allows them to navigate the shifting patterns of relationships by deciphering what’s important. When their Navigating domain is overemphasized, they begin to get caught up in the political side of things, become overly concerned about their own standing, which results in derailing their capacity to reach the end goal of player and team success. 

Leaders with a Navigating bias are naturally drawn to elements that revolve around group dynamics and interpersonal communication. As a coach, they easily gravitate to facilitating how team members coexist with one another. They intuitively know what levers to pull in order to move a group forward but can find themselves neglecting the structure and procedures that can lead to a lack of player and team development.



Those with a dominant bias toward Transmitting tend to focus on “attracting and bonding.” They are often charismatic, bold, and ambitious. They innately send signals highlighting their abilities and hone in on those who are receptive to their signaling and establish an intense connection. Although good at building relationships, they are significantly better at transmitting their message than receiving. 

Leaders with a Transmitting bias are generally very brash, they’re driven to leave an impression. They are able to influence others at the individual and collective level, making them desirable to follow. They are good at building strategic partnerships, but they are not attuned to subtle interpersonal dynamics. As a leader, they are usually able to captivate and inspire a player or team. This allows for his or her players to feel wanted and committed to playing for the coach. When they overemphasize transmitting, however, these leaders live too much for their accomplishments and make the team’s victories their own victories. 

Regardless which Instinctual Bias you gravitate to, the key to improving, is to consider how your personality influences how you affect on an individual or collective level. Whether it’s amongst colleagues and other key stakeholders, consider the benefits the Instinctual Biases can have when skillful leading and managing other aspects in your own environment. How do you see your personality influence the way you manage performance, identify and develop talent, and networking? Is it done with ease and fluidity or conflict and friction?  

The same forces that shape every other aspect of our lives shape the way we approach playing, coaching, and managing in sports. Understanding these patterns unlocks our ability to grow, adapt, and improve.


Mario Fernández is CEO and Founder of HUBOL. HUBOL is a sports leadership and management development entity that focuses on organizational, staff and individual well-being. He uses the ATA method as a practical framework to work effectively and holistically with his clients. His experience in the sports industry spans over ten years, three countries, in such roles as professional player, coach, scout, club manager and coach educator.

Mario Sikora is CEO of Awareness to Action International and an internationally known leadership-development consultant and innovator in the theory and application of the Enneagram model of personality styles.

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