At the beginning of this year, Wayne Rooney had certainly reached a critical moment in his storied football career.
The Manchester United Star was suffering through one of the worst seasons his team had experienced in recent years. He had just signed a lucrative new contract, which meant he was now carrying the heightened expectations of the extremely demanding team fans.
Complicating matters was the fact the club had just hired a new manager – David Moyes – a man who had been Rooney’s manager at his first pro club. David also happened to be a complainant in a defamation suit against Rooney.
Then, in a match on March 23 at West Ham United, Rooney was asked by Moyes to wear the captain’s armband for that one game. It was the first time he had captained the team.
The pressure was enormous. Consider, for a moment, the issues Rooney took with him onto the pitch that weekend: the weight of a big, new contract; toxic baggage with the manager; having a bad season in the Premiership.
Rather than cave into the pressure, Rooney responded with one of the best games he had ever played. He scored two goals in a 2-0 win. The crescendo of his performance coming in a stunning 45-yard strike that is now considered one of the greatest Manchester United goals of recent memory.
Rooney made a statement and now he is being touted as the next full-time captain of this legendary soccer team. Moyes, Rooney’s one-time tormenter, gushed about his captain’s performance.
“Wayne wants to take responsibility,” Moyes said. “You get opportunities if you’re a player out of the team who suddenly gets a chance or if you become a key player and then get the chance to wear the armband and take that on. He did that.”
Clearly, given his opportunity to lead, Rooney took his game to the next level. It’s clear he did it not to feed his own ego, rather to help his team win.
He could have, as many do, accepted the captaincy and rested on his laurels. Given his illustrious career, that would have been justified. However he didn’t. That to me is what makes this story an important leadership story.
Many leaders I’ve worked with believe that achieving a certain leadership role or getting an important title is the accomplishment – a signal that one has arrived. With this belief, many stop trying to do more or do better. They coast. A sense of entitlement sets in.
As Rooney was given the Captain’s armband he made a personal leadership decision. He took personal accountability to lead his team. To accept responsibility for his own performance which in turn would set the bar high for everyone else. He understood the obligation that came by wearing the Captain’s band. In the end, Rooney made the most of his leadership opportunity and it helped his team.
What about you? How do you respond when you are provided a leadership opportunity? Do you rise to the challenge? Or do you merely keep doing what you’ve always been doing, believing you’ve already arrived, having a sense of entitlement, or feeling you no longer need to prove your value?
This week’s Gut Check question as you to reflect on: when given the opportunity to lead, do you raise your game?
Join the discussion on Twitter @VinceMolinaro #GutCheck
About the Author
Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.Follow on Twitter More Content by Vince Molinaro