As she entered her final World Cup run, US soccer legend Abby Wambach had scored more goals than any player—female or male–in soccer history. She was a perennial force who seemed to always come up with a goal when the team needed it most. But before the tournament began, Wambach, a soccer icon who’d captained the US National Team to two Olympic gold medals, learned that she would no longer be a starter. Wambach was in the twilight of her career, and Team USA had an emerging force of promising young stars who were ready for their place on the pitch. So Wambach assumed a role that only a true leader would embrace.
As she described in her 2018 commencement address at Barnard College:
“You’re 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, then don’t call yourself a leader on the field. You’re either a leader everywhere or nowhere.”
The most vital people in any team or organization don’t need a title to make an impact. They don’t withhold their best effort until the best opportunity is presented to them. They find a way to do great work no matter what role they’re asked to play.
If you want to show colleges real leadership ability, show them what you can do when you haven’t been given the perfect role. Prove that you can lead from the bench and they’ll know you can lead from just about anywhere.