Reflections on Leadership: Leaders Want the Ball

Weekly Inspiration

Leaders Want the Ball

Warning: we are in the heart of college basketball season and there is a big sports analogy coming later. My apologies in advance!

Recently I was listening to an episode of the Pick the Brain podcast featuring a commencement address by Abby Wambach. Abby is a USA soccer player and has multiple Olympic gold medals. The theme of her speech was the four rules I’ve used to unite her pack and lead them to gold.

During this speech she told the following story about her fourth rule: demand the ball.

Abby was playing a small-sided scrimmage (5 against 5) as an 18 year old against professional athlete Michelle Akers. For the first three quarters of the game, Michelle was taking it easy on the kids, coaching them, teaching them about spacing, timing and the tactics of the game. But by the fourth quarter, she realized that because of all of this coaching, her team was losing by three goals. In that moment, a light switched on inside of her. She ran back to the goalkeeper, stood one yard away from her and screamed: Give. Me. The. Effing. Ball.

The goalkeeper gave her the effing ball. And she took that ball and she dribbled through our entire effing team, and she scored. Now this game was winners keepers, so if you scored you got the ball back. So, as soon as Michelle scored, she ran back to her goalie, stood a yard away from her and screamed: Give. Me. The. Ball. The keeper did. And again she dribbled though us and scored. And then she did it again. She took her team to victory.

Her point was that it is time for women to stand up and say “give me the respect I’ve earned.”

I thought this was a powerful leadership allegory in a slightly different but related way.

There have been times as a leader when I have sat back and waited for things to come to me. I have waited for direction or guidance or sat in my office and waited for people to ask me questions instead of being proactive. This just doesn’t work for a strong leader.

A strong leader operates more like a point guard in basketball – the leader on the floor. Good point guards run to the ball, they read the play and almost all plays involve the ball getting into that player’s hands. He or she calls for the ball and wants the ball in her hands. Good point guards don’t just wait for a pass, they engineer the play and make good things happen.

Leaders do the same, they call for the ball, they run to the ball and they try to get into the center of the action. A good leader is always talking to people, reading the environment, monitoring the data and looking for opportunities to make things better. By getting their hands on the ball, good leaders make big plays happen that weren’t there before.

On a related note, good leaders call for the ball but they don’t always shoot it every time the ball gets in their hands. Great leaders choose their battles and don’t take the ill-advised shot. Sometimes it is worth a couple more passes to keep from going into a situation with guns blazing before you have read the situation.

Call to Action: step into the middle of the play and call for the ball. Don’t be satisfied with the easy way of waiting for direction, guidance and the play to come to you. Yes it is more comfortable to let the play come to you (trust me, I have done it a lot!) but greatness is just outside that comfort zone.

About Reflections on Leadership

Reflections on Leadership is my weekly article series reflecting on what it means to be a great leader. I hope that these thoughts can help you with your own leadership development journey.

My mission for Operation Melt is to help you melt away all of the obstacles to achieving your goals, not just your fitness goals. So, helping us all become better leaders is fully aligned with that mission. Maybe this will help achieve the Operation Melt vision…

To create a world where goals never die of loneliness.

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