Photo: Getty/Rich Lam
Christie Rampone is one of America’s most successful and celebrated soccer players, and she will be leading the U.S. Women’s National Team to the London Olympic Games. She has already won gold twice, once in 2004 and as the team captain in 2008. She has also played in four World Cup finals and is a mother of two young kids. Here, she opens up about what it really takes to be a leader.Whether in the world of soccer or business, leadership is simple.
It’s about communication, honesty, and building confidence. That’s it. You get that, and your team competes at its best. Period.
As the captain of the U.S. Women’s National soccer team, it is my job to help the team understand what the coaching staff expects. I took over as captain in 2007 and had never thought about or prepared for a leadership role. At first, I tried to please everyone—but I soon learned that only leads to confusion and failure.
So, I looked to former players like Carla Overbeck and Kristine Lilly for inspiration. They taught me the values of a good leader: to be honest with the players, care about their well being, and treat them with respect. They also showed me how to lead by example, put the team first, and keep things simple.
After five years, I have found that being a great leader boils down to a few no-nonsense principles:
1. Stop talking so much. A good leader is a good listener. My role is about less talk and more keen observation. You can often learn more about your team’s dynamics by simply watching the team interact. As you watch, ask yourself: Where are there issues? Who is helping the team the most? Who is hurting the team’s morale?
2. Don’t gossip. In one-on-one conversations, a good leader really digests the information and, most important, won’t blab it to other colleagues.
This is the foundation of trust between colleagues. For me, when a teammate expresses concern about an issue, I don’t use her name and or exact quotes when I speak to our coaching staff.
This way, our coaches are addressing the issue, not a particular person. It also means I don’t lose the confidence of my team. I’m a credible source, not a gossip or someone who blames others for problems.
Bottom line: If what you say has substance and integrity, your colleagues and whomever you answer to (and, face it, we all answer to someone) trust you.
3. Stop saying yes. I can’t afford to be a yes person. When the athletes come to me with ideas or problems, I have to weigh each and prioritise. Same goes for business: You can’t just take on everything from everyone.
Sometimes saying no is harder in the short term (your team might not understand or agree), but if you know it’s best for your team in the long run, it’s worth it.
4. Roll up your sleeves. If you are constantly putting the group before yourself and doing the work each and every day, it makes it easier for the people around you to respect, appreciate, and buy into the process.
Then, when you make a mistake or a controversial decision, your team will understand you are thinking of the big picture—that you are trying to accomplish something as part of a team.
5. Walk the walk. Great leaders know body language is important. As a captain, my actions and demeanor need to enforce motivation and enthusiasm but also show plenty of poise. No matter what, I always want to show positive and controlled behaviour, on and off the field, never any stress or worry.
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