It has been nothing short of remarkable to see the Matildas, our national women’s soccer team, participate in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Their historic efforts kept them in the competition all the way to the semi-finals, the best result for any Australian soccer team ever.
The nation was there with the team when they persisted through ten pairs of penalty shootouts against France (another record-breaking effort) and when they were there working so hard against England. The Matildas did us proud, finishing fourth overall following their match against Sweden on Saturday.
The Matildas have done so much and brought conversations about social, sporting and gender equality into lunchrooms around the nation. You might wonder how much room there is for leadership in a team sport- well, I say plenty. Those inspirational women showed what they were made of and brought their unique skills and attributes to form a powerful coalition.
Sam Kerr – a leader for our times
There was Sam Kerr, overcoming an injury to stand proud as captain. Sam has shown us how to be an authentic leader, determined, and tenacious. Kerr knows her strengths, embraces her individuality and urges the team to do the same.
Coach Gustafson said “Sam is an emotional player, but she has gotten much better in emotional control when she needs to say the right things. She can be the passion and the heart of the team when need be, and drive people.”
Her consistent presence on the pitch motivated and inspired the team. Kerr knows what each of her teammates is best at and does what she can to create opportunities for them.
Mary Fowler – dignity and discipline
The calm consistency of Mary Fowler, the youngest member of the Matildas team, inspired me. Can you believe this girl is only twenty years old? Even when under extreme pressure, Fowler showed nothing but poise and persistence. She’s got an incredible eye for the ball. And I was struck by what appeared to be an absolute awareness of what all the other players- teammates and opposition were doing.
Understanding your environment and assessing the challenges and opportunities is crucial for confident leadership.
Fowler clearly has a lot of insight into the importance of discipline in leadership too. When asked for the best advice she had ever received, she recalled being offered this gem “Wherever you are, start there.”
Mackenzie Arnold – the art of the comeback
Our goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold had a tough competition. But she totally brought her leadership attitude to every game. She’s living proof of my observation that success is 99% attitude and 1% aptitude.
As a goalie, Arnold is surely accustomed to having her team rely on her. Her quiet confidence from the back row must have been so important to the Matildas during the competition. She chose to bring her familiar “I got this” attitude to every game and never once let fear get the better of her. She not only faced ten penalty kicks, she took one and scored!
Corntee Vine – overcoming imposter syndrome
Then there is Cortnee Vine, one of the few Matildas based here in Australia for an Aussie team. Vine has spoken candidly about her feelings of imposter syndrome. In an interview, she commented “You think, ‘Do I deserve to be here?’, and you ask yourself, ‘Am I good enough?”
During the France game, Vine let her inner leader shine through; taking the shot that got the Matildas their ticket to the semis. Vine acknowledged those feelings of inadequacy but proved that she could show up and get the job done by pushing through the pressure.
When it comes to leadership on or off the pitch, we can learn plenty from the Matildas.
First comes Courage
Just like I demonstrated in my book- First comes Courage. Courage in a team setting means harnessing the power of the collective. Of diversity. Of complementary strengths. Courageous leadership is essential when combining individual talents and accomplishments and directing them towards scoring those goals.
Confidence is key
Next, comes confidence. This means confidence in yourself and in your team. I truly believe that confidence is a choice. Even when there have been previous losses. Even in the face of naysayers. Even when Tall Poppy Syndrome gets in the way. Leadership means showing confidence in who you are and where you are going.
Team-based decision making
Decision-making for a team is different to decision-making for just you. When there is a team involved, leaders need to make decisions for the team. They might not be the popular decisions.
Those decisions may cause someone to feel hurt, left out or overlooked. But a leader who understands the goal and the current conditions should make decisions for the team that give the best chance of achieving.
Great leaders make clear their approach to decision-making, they show kindness and they share how their decision was made.