Demand the Ball!

Late spring is the time of graduation ceremonies.  A time when people come together to acknowledge an important rite of passage.  Moving across a platform to signify saying goodbye to one stage of life and hello to another.

I like these ceremonies because they typically have speakers who offer sage advice and/or worthwhile questions to ponder.

I happened across the speech of Abby Wambaugh, the leading scorer in US soccer history and two-time Olympic gold medalist.  In an environment when it seems like our country is splitting into factions focused only on achieving their individual goals, Abby spoke of teamwork and the power of the “wolf-pack.”

Wambaugh stated that there are 4 rules for success she has learned from her career.  As you read these rules, pay attention to the questions or thoughts that come to you.

The first rule is to embrace failure and use it to fuel your current and future efforts.  Abby stated that failure is a gift, not something to try to hide or disguise.  “Listen, failure is not something to be ashamed of.  It’s something to be powered by.  You gotta learn to make failure your fuel.”

How often do we berate ourselves for our failures and vow; “I’ll never do that again!” rather than examining each mis-step to capture the rich learning that is inherent in failure?

Wambaugh’s second rule turns our notions of leadership upside-down.  “Lead from the bench.  You are allowed to be disappointed when it feels like life’s benched you.  What you aren’t allowed to do is miss your opportunity to lead from the bench.”

How often do we look to others for leadership rather than recognizing our own ability to be a leader anywhere, anytime?

What if we all saw it as our divine responsibility to be a leader whether we are a member of a team, an individual, or leading a team?  Whether we are driving for a goal or cheering from the bench, we all have the opportunity to show up as a leader.  How can we re-think our assumptions about leadership?

The last two rules may be viewed as challenges to each of us as they address our notion of scarcity and women’s assertiveness.  Rule number three; “champion each other.  Create a place for everybody.  Demand seats for women, people of color, and all marginalized people at every table where decisions are made.”

The mental construct of scarcity is woven into the fabric of our culture.  A belief in scarcity keeps us focused only on ourselves, our group, our political party, to the detriment of the whole.

What if we championed others as much as ourselves?  What if we included others in our perspective and amplified their voices?

Finally, “demand the ball.”  Wambaugh encourages us to know our value, to speak up, declare you want the promotion, demand equal pay, “give me the respect I’ve earned.”  Women (and other marginalized groups) struggle with the Catch-22 of being assertive.  If they aren’t assertive and state their desires, they are unlikely to be promoted, supported, receive the next juicy assignment, be provided professional development or an opportunity to stretch beyond their current role.

Yet, when women are assertive, frequently they are labelled as pushy, a ‘queen bee’ or worse.  The derogatory labels abound about women or minorities, or LBGTQ’s who “don’t know their place.”

What if we all demanded the ball and championed each other at the same time?  What would be different if we acknowledged our value and the contributions of others?

Wambaugh was speaking to a graduating class of women at Barnard College, so her comments are targeted for that audience.  However, her recommendations are appropriate for all.

What could we create in the world if we all used failure as a learning tool?

What if we all lead from where we sit, rather than expecting someone else to step up?

What would change if we call championed each other?  And what could we achieve if we demanded the ball because we have an opportunity to score on behalf of the team?

As I listened to her speech, I pondered my own behavior.  As you read these rules, what comes up for you?