In September, I joined a new football club that plays at a decently competitive level. As the “new guy,” I’ve been quite careful in my communication and dialog. I’m not here to step on anybody’s toes (so early on), but to also understand the different personalities of the team and how they interact with one another. It’s no secret that growing up, football was (and remains) my way of integrating with those around me. As the only “other kid,” it was a way where I could objectively show my worth through performance.
In most instances, your abilities would allow you to earn a spot versus the politics of things muddying the waters. As an important aside, my role on the new team is as a goalkeeper. Most people see this as a wholly defensive role and, for the sake of this argument, I won’t fight the importance of a goalkeeper beyond “stopping the ball from entering the goal.”
But one thing I’ve realized playing with new players is that for the most part, a football team and any sort of company or project is two in the same. If you run up against challenges, it requires somebody to take control of the situation and step up to solve in. More often than not, in a team environment, you have more than 90 minutes to solve that. However, two things immediately spring to mind: capability and care. Are you capable of addressing a situation to solve it, and do you care enough to do so?
This was a particularly heartbreaking assessment after a nil-nil draw against weaker opposition. From my position far down the pitch (I think we conceded 0 shots in retrospect, so kudos to the defense), we weren’t capable of reversing our fortunes. We’re by far one of the most capable teams in the league, but I wasn’t sure if we cared enough. This apathy is the undoing of any company, any project, any team. This isn’t a signal to throw in the towel.
Sports are a very unique situation where you have the opportunity to modify and retest mistakes and learnings every single week. The following Tuesday led to a fiery session where despite a rapid 4 kilometer run to get our heart rates going, we went straight into an intense session. Ultimately, leagues are won and lost over an aggregation of outcomes, not one particular moment in time. Building something great requires a high-degree of caring.
I’ve been a part of some successful and not so successful projects; the connective thread has always been how much people cared. It wasn’t a sense of artificial caring introduced by a pay cheque, it was a commitment to the outcome and a great job done by the team as a whole.
There was also the recognition that at times you will need to be the person to drive this point home, and at other moments, you will need to play a supporting role. Understanding your place on a team of any sort is this powerful form of self-reflection. There will be instances where you’re not the most talented one but you’re capable of aligning everybody to get on the same page. Other times, you are the one to lead by example. Not everybody can be a leader in every scenario, but everybody can be a leading force when it involves their passion.
Understanding how to be a leader and how to be a follower builds this strong feedback loop where in any given situation you’re able to provide value across the board because you understand what resonates. We’ve traditionally aligned leadership with extroverts but leadership isn’t the loudest talker, it’s the one who can bring clarity, goals, and process to the outcome. Find that thing you love and bring some people along for the ride.