Embracing failure and learning to lead from the sidelines

Sometimes the biggest achievements in life come from the sidelines, not playing in the main event.

Despite being the highest all-time international goal scorer for both male and female soccer players, it was her time on the bench in the 2015 World Cup that Abby Wambach said she is especially proud of.

Wambach, retired soccer player, speaker and activist, told a packed house at a keynote address at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Philadelphia that she was upset, angry and embarrassed when she learned she wouldn’t be starting in the next series of games during the World Cup that year.

But she says instead of pouting or living in her ego, she decided to cheer the loudest and be the best team supporter from the sidelines. And she said she learned valuable leadership lessons there that she couldn’t have learned in her role as the star player and captain on the field.

“If you actually focus more on the ‘we,’ even if you are a goal scorer, focusing more on the ‘we’ will get you further in the long run,” Wambach said.

She’s the author of a new book called WOLFPACK: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game, which is designed to empower women to step into their power, find their pack and work to achieve more.

She’s also co-founder of a business, Wolfpack Endeavor, that works with corporations to help men and women create their own wolfpacks. These small groups aim to create a team environment and help champion each other to advance in their careers. And to feel they are worthy when they arrive at that next level.

Here are some other leadership beliefs she shared:

  • Be proactive and intentional about creating your environment and surrounding yourself with people who will be supportive and hold you accountable.
  • Approach situations and conflicts with curiosity instead of judgement. People may not always agree, but they can be respectful and keep communicating.
  • Ask for what you want. Women especially need to become more comfortable with this to help move themselves in the right direction.
  • Embrace the failures.

“We have to figure out better ways of managing through failure,” she said. She again emphasized that women especially need to learn how to “fail up” and grow from setbacks. And they also need to share these lessons and help other women along.

Wambach knows a thing or two about winning, between her Olympic medals and her World Cup championship. But she also knows a lot about failing. And about the team mentality and spirit that can carry you through both.

So listen to the soccer star: Find your people. Ask for what you need. And step into your power.

Kathryn Doherty has been a health editor with SmartBrief for 14 years. She has covered many facets of the health care industry during that time and currently focuses on physicians, health care providers, nutrition and wellness.

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