Special guest blog written by Professional soccer player and Lead ‘Em Up Ambassador Yael Averbuch
The older I get, the more I begin to realize how much leadership affects our everyday experiences. I am led, called upon to lead, and indirectly affected by leadership — good and bad — multiple times every single day.
When we think of a leader, we likely imagine a teacher, team captain, or political office holder. But, in truth, the importance of leadership goes well beyond that. To truly understand any group dynamics, it’s vital to take into account the leadership in the situation and how that affects absolutely everything.
For a long time in my life, I didn’t consider myself a leader at all. Instead, I was led. My parents were both leaders in my household and through their example and instruction I became a young adult. Often as a youth soccer player, I was the only girl on an all boys’ team or a younger player on an older team of girls, so I was very happy to follow and just blend in.
It wasn’t until college that I began to take on the role of a leader and appreciate the importance and the difficultly of the task. I also started to realize that leaders come in all forms. The powerful leaders on teams can sometimes be the bad influences —the ones who talk behind the coach’s back, slack on reps, and undermine what’s best for the team. That’s a form of leadership, too. And that’s one reason why it’s so important for the positive leaders to be just as strong and charismatic, if not stronger.
The most successful groups have multiple types of positive leaders. They have the very vocal ones who are constantly offering encouragement and correction. Then there are those who quietly lead by example, showing others how to be successful through their own actions. One role I really embraced in college was to be a trustworthy go-between among my teammates and coaching staff. I tried to have everyone’s interest in mind and make sure that I maintained the staff’s trust as well. So if one day I said, “Hey, coach, I know you have a hard session planned for today but we’re exhausted,” he could trust me to know that I wasn’t just trying to cut corners. I would never abuse this privilege but when my teammates and I had a valid need to ask the coach to adjust something, they all trusted that they could ask me and I would get it done.
As I started to learn to be a leader, I gained an immense appreciation for the role of the follower. One form of leadership (although it sounds funny) is to be a loyal follower. Now, when I’m leading, I very much appreciate the teammate who will be first to join me on the cool down lap or notice that I’m going through our warmup protocol and start to do it, too. The first and loyal follower is the one who encourages others to follow, too. I try to always support other leaders by being this loyal follower to them, because I know how much I appreciate the effort when I am leading.
Now, as a veteran professional, I have many younger teammates who will come to me for advice. To be a good leader, I always try to share my best and most thoughtful input with them, but also to get to know them better and truly understand their motivations. To lead effectively, it’s all about communication and understanding. Everyone has different goals, motivations, and fears. The best leaders can get to know that about each part of their group and tailor their leadership to individuals while also doing what’s best for the group as a whole. I always try to be honest. Leadership is sometimes not about being nice. At times, a group, or individual, needs to hear something tough. That type of leadership is certainly not my speciality, but as a veteran player it’s something I’ve had to work on. I owe it to those who come to me for advice to give my honest input, even if sometimes the truth is hard to share.
I went from being very happy to always follow, to reluctantly accepting a leadership position, to now fully embracing what it means to be a leader. I have now also started my own business and have to lead my small team of employees to determine the culture and character or what we want the business to be about. It’s about more than delegating tasks and letting them know what to do, and more about working together to decide how we should do it.
Leadership isn’t just the stereotypical person giving the speech in the huddle or the person who stands at the front of the room to address the group. I see leaders in those who follow rules; those who question rules; those who act first in an emergency; those who know when and when not to speak out. Leadership is important but it is not one specific skill set, nor a talent that can be learned in isolation. It’s about navigating relationships and group dynamics and realizing that everything we do, say, and decide has a bigger impact than we likely know.
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