I’ve been on vacation, and I’m not the biggest soccer fan in the world. But I know a good opportunity to learn about leadership when I see it.
Four years ago the U.S. Women’s soccer team had, well, let’s say team and leadership problems during World Cup play. Soon after that, the coach’s contract expired and a new coach was hired. Pia Sundhage had a chore – to restore focus and change a culture, as well as coach the fundamentals. She joined as the first foreign born coach the team had ever had (she’s from Sweden). In the four years since a disappointing and contentious third place finish, she’s just helped the team win an Olympic Gold Medal, and today has them playing for a World Cup Championship.
Think there might be something for the rest of us as leaders to learn from her?
I think so.
My observations in this article come from some reading over the past couple of days, but mostly from the NY Times piece written yesterday (Saturday July 16) – registration may be required.
Here are some quotes from her or her team, and my comments, tying those ideas back to all of us as leaders.
From goalkeeper Hope Solo: She’s more laid-back than any coach I have ever had. She wanted to bring fun back to the game. She wanted to make us think for ourselves. She didn’t want to be on the sidelines coaching every pass. She pushed the creative envelope, got us thinking on our own.”
While laid-back might not be the style you prefer or what you might want to be referred to as, read the rest of the quote from a star player – aren’t those things you would want people to say about working with you? No one aspires to work for a micro-manager, and everyone wants to feel that they have a greater say in their work.
Are you creating that environment?
From Sundhage herself: “I knew I had to do something, so I pretty much listened. I asked the players, ‘What do you want to happen?’ The other question was, ‘Do you want to win?’ Yes, of course, they said. Then I said, ‘We need good goalkeepers.’ ”
New with a team or in a job? Listen first. When things aren’t good (“I knew I had to do something”), our first reaction is probably to do somthing, and listening isn’t likely on the short list. I’ve written about taking a listening tour in the past, and this idea is echoed by Sundhage. After she asked multiple questions, then (and only then) did she suggest next steps (“We need good goalkeepers.”). This order will make a difference because you will make better decisions and the decisions you make will be more likely accepted.
Are you listening first?
Megan Rapinoe, one of her players moved from the starting lineup to a substitute role, said: “Pia just brings that calmness, she never shows through her body language that she’s nervous. She’s someone you can look toward in tough situations as a leader.”
When times are tough people will look to you even more closely, for even more reasons as a leader. Are you aware of how you are perecived in those times? Do you intentionally monitor your language, verbal and non verbal, especially in challenging situations?
Do people look to you when times are tough?
And one more from the coach herself: “It is O.K. to make mistakes, the biggest mistake you can make is if you don’t try. You need relaxed players who try hard.”
Everyone agrees we learn from our mistakes, but are you giving people the space and opportunity to relax enough to take a risk, to make a mistake and learn from it?
Are you letting people try?
I don’t know the tactics of soccer as well as the preteen girls who live next door, but I know leadership when I see it. We’ll see how the team performs today. Win or lose, they have a leader they have grown from and we can learn from.
photo credit – Wikipedia