Do you remember the John Fogarty song, Centerfield? It goes like this… “Oh, put me in, coach, I’m ready to play today. Put me in, coach, I’m ready to play, today. Look at me, I can be centerfield.”
If you grew up hearing that song (like I did), at some point in your career you might have had the urge to say – “Put me in boss! I’m ready to lead, today.”
I applaud those who ask for additional responsibility when they’re ready to take on bigger challenges. In fact, I encourage it! However, everyone experiences situations where their role as a valued team member is not as the spokesperson, the project manager, the lead developer, first chair in the orchestra, or on the field during the big game.
If you’re used to being in the driver’s seat, how do you respond when it’s your turn to be a passenger?
You can choose to be actively engaged like the lacrosse players in the picture above. They’re closely watching the game – standing up to catch every nuance of the action! I can sense the tension they’re feeling based on their body language. They’ve likely been coached to provide support and insights to their teammates even when they’re not on the field. What’s the alternative? They could shut down. They could chat among themselves ignoring the game around them and put the their attention elsewhere.
Which behavior is better for your team productivity and for you career? I recommend choosing the path of greater engagement.
Abby Wambach, a stellar soccer player who led US World Cup and Olympic Teams and many other teams throughout her career, delivered the commencement address at Barnard College in 2018.
Here’s how she described practicing a rule she lives by: “Lead from the Bench.”
Imagine this: You’ve scored more goals than any human being on the planet—female or male. You’ve co-captained and led Team USA in almost every category for the past decade. And you and your coach sit down and decide together that you won’t be a starter in your last World Cup for Team USA.
So… that sucked.
You’ll feel benched sometimes, too. You’ll be passed over for the promotion, taken off the project—you might even find yourself holding a baby instead of a briefcase—watching your colleagues “get ahead.”
Here’s what’s important. 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.
During that last World Cup, my teammates told me that my presence, my support, my vocal and relentless belief in them from the bench is what gave them the confidence they needed to win us that championship.
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.
And by the way: the fiercest leading I’ve ever seen has been done between mother and child. Parenting is no bench. It just might be the big game.
Wherever you’re put, lead from there.
I believe it’s critical to ask for leadership positions, for promotions, for a raise, and for challenging assignments. In fact, I coach my clients to take those actions! But, there are times to say “Put me in boss!” And, there are times to lead from the sidelines. How you choose to show up will impact your mindset and will be noticed by others.