Leading from the bench: Abby Wambach insights on leadership

Wambach, Abby. 2019. WOLFPACK: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game. Celadon Books.

I am not the ostensible target audience for this book. Abby Wambach, one of the all-time best soccer players in the world, wrote Wolfpack following her commencement address at Barnard College in 2018;

She’s talking to women about leadership.

But I would be stupid not to take advantage of wisdom wherever I find it. I stumbled across Wolfpack courtesy of Brené Brown ([Brené with Abby Wambach on the New Rules of Leadership) who puts it on her “top five must-read leadership books.” She’s right.

Wolfpack is a short book. That’s because there isn’t any padding. The book resembles the game Wambach played; competition and cooperation stripped to its essentials.

She draws her title from the tale of how the re-introduction of wolves restored the ecosystem of Yellowstone Park. It’s a story about the complexity and simplicity of systems. I’ve written about it myself before; (Learning to see systems \- wolves and rivers). It’s worth your time to check that story out;

Wambach packages her advice in a handful of rules. One that stood out for me was “lead from the bench.” Perhaps it resonates with my experience as a stage manager operating in the wings. While I’ve had my share of leading from in front, I’ve seen the power of leading from wherever circumstances have put you. Wambach’s particular story stems from her transition from starter to substitute during the 2015 World Cup competition. Here’s her take on that moment:

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. If you’re not a leader on the bench, don’t call yourself a leader on the field. You’re either a leader everywhere or nowhere.

Wambach understands that leadership isn’t about the individual. One powerful statement of that level of insight shows up in this TV commercial with her;

One more quote from Wambach;

Leadership is not a position to earn, it’s an inherent power to claim. Leadership is the blood that runs through your veins—it’s born in you. It’s not the privilege of a few, it is the right and responsibility of all. Leader is not a title that the world gives to you—it’s an offering that you give to the world.

This is leadership worth emulating.

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