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Jeff Woods: 5 tips for a winning workforce transition

Former Rhode Island student-athlete shares lessons he’s carried into the workplace


Jeffry C. Woods
Principal consultant and design specialist, Full Circle Consulting Systems, Inc.; adjunct professor, Indiana Wesleyan

Hometown: Kerhonson, New York

Current city: Indianapolis

School: Bachelor’s degree in corrective and adaptive physical education, Rhode Island, 1992; Master of Business Administration, Indiana Institute of Technology, 2002; doctor of education in organizational leadership, Argosy University, 2012.

Sport: Men’s track and field (long jump, 400-meter hurdles)

Interesting fact: Woods, a Rhode Island Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, set 20 school records in 10 different track and field events during his four years at the college. He went on to compete in the 1992 U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials.

Jeff Woods knows what it takes to grow and develop champions in competition and in the workforce. Woods, a former University of Rhode Island track and field athlete, leveraged his college sports experiences to fuel a successful corporate and higher education career. Currently an educator and organizational effectiveness consultant in California and Indiana, Woods trains the next generation of leadership experts, builds high performing teams and regularly reflects on his time as a college athlete.

Below, Woods offers his perspective on how student-athletes can apply lessons learned from competition for a smooth transition to the workforce.

Establish mutual trust.

As a student-athlete, coaches are trusting you to first perform in the classroom, then perform on the track. As an athlete, if you do not give 100 percent effort in practice, you will not give 100 percent effort during the game. This same mentality translates to the workforce.

Be honest with others and yourself. Relationships need a solid foundation of trust to flourish. Develop the necessary habits to foster relationships with your supervisors and peers that are built on trust.

I look to establish mutual trust in all my relationships — with my spouse, children, employer, friends. I learned that if people can’t trust you with the little things, they will not trust you with the bigger things.

Stay humble.

As a student-athlete, I learned there were many others who were counting on me to be successful. I quickly realized success was not just about me. To be successful in any job, you must make the transition from being selfish to being selfless. Think of yourself less and find innovative ways to contribute to the team’s success. And don’t forget to remain coachable.

Being humble has allowed me to meet some great people and develop some long-lasting relationships. Transitioning from being selfish to selfless has provided me with much happiness, both personally and professionally.

Cultivate compassion.

My coach instilled in us compassion toward others. I was a very successful hurdler in college and it humbled me when my peers asked me which race I was doing, since they wanted to anticipate whether they had a chance at first place or not. During those moments, I learned to be compassionate in my response and say, “Every athlete has their day, and today just might be yours so don’t take it easy on me — make me work.”

Never lose your ability to be kind to your peers, and they will most likely reciprocate with kindness, as well. Having a caring heart for others can add years to your life. I believe this is one of the best lessons that I have transferred down to my children.

Break out of your comfort zone.

At Rhode Island, I learned how to be courageous on and off the field. If I needed extra help with schoolwork, I had enough courage to ask for it. As an athlete, I developed the courage to embrace pain and continually push myself to get better. Have the courage to extend beyond your comfort zone. This is the only way you will grow.

It is inevitable that life will throw some lemons at you. What I learned from my experience as a student-athlete was to embrace pain and adversity. As a college athlete and employee, I learned you automatically fail when you lack the courage to go beyond your comfort zone.

Remain disciplined.

A lack of discipline will lead to disappointment. Identify your goal and demonstrate the behaviors that will get you closer to your goal. Discipline will open doors of opportunity for you.

My goal since I was in 8th grade was to make the ’92 U.S. Olympic track and field team. I knew without practicing like a champion every day, I would not have a chance. Early on, I focused on eating right and getting enough sleep - two habits that allowed me to perform at my best during practice and while competing. 

I still practice self-control with the foods I eat which helps me remain healthy. I will run in in my 7th Marine Corp marathon this year and it is only because of the focus to take care of my body that I developed as a scholar athlete.

If I did not develop discipline running track, I believe my life would be drastically different. It helped me go on to attend graduate school, complete my MBA, doctorate, and continues to help me remain physically fit.

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