Karina LeBlanc: ‘Leadership is the ability to empower others’

Former Canadian National team goalkeeper Karin LeBlanc is all about living in the space of being uncomfortable.

Born in the U.S to an English father and a Jamaican mother, LeBlanc grew up in the Caribbean country of Dominica until age eight when her family moved to Maple Ridge, B.C.

She describes the experience as a major culture shock and that she struggled to fit in.

“I had a thick accent, I was eight years old and it was hard. It was uncomfortable. I struggled [at school] and went home and told my parents I hated them for moving us,” LeBlanc told Global BC’s Chris Gailus as part of the Global News and CKNW Leadership Series.
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“I went from being comfortable to being very uncomfortable but it would turn out to be one of the best things they did for us.”

Things started to change for LeBlanc when she started to play sport. Along with gaining friends and confidence, LeBlanc discovered what she wanted to be — an Olympian.

“I was very ‘vision clear’ on what I wanted to do and people thought I was crazy at the time because women’s soccer wasn’t even in the Olympics.”

After years of hard work, LeBlanc made the women’s national soccer team roster in 1998.

LeBlanc considers her national soccer coach, John Herdman, a mentor both on and off the soccer pitch.

Herdman took over as head coach in 2011 on the heels of Canadian women’s team coming in last in the 2011 World Cup. It wasn’t an easy time for the soccer team but how Herdman responded to the team’s defeat, changed LeBlanc’s life immensely.

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“We came dead last in the World Cup,” LeBlanc recalls.

“We thought we’d let the whole country down. We were broken, we were hurt, we were lost. I had been on the team for almost 12 years at the time. And he asked us, why are you here? I’ll never forget that meeting…  we were supposed to do great at the 2011 World Cup… it rocked us.”

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Having a coach ask ‘why’ was profound for LeBlanc. Figuring out the answer, LeBlanc said, allowed the team to stand on the podium nine months later at the 2012 London Olympics.

“I’d say that, as in life, behind some of your greatest failures come your greatest successes… and it was our vision and legacy was to inspire the next generation… Once you have clarity on where you want to go, great things can happen.”

Herdman came in and empowered the players to be their best selves and according to LeBlanc, his legacy won’t be that everyone stood on a podium or made them into great soccer players, it’ll be what they do with their lives afterwards.

“I had this one job for 14-15 years… and he said if you think your purpose on this earth is to kick a soccer ball for Canada, then I’ve failed you,” LeBlanc said.

“It rocked me to my core. I sacrificed everything for [soccer]. He’s a mentor that challenges you, [and] it made me think about what my purpose was on this earth.”
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WATCH MORE: Five things about Karina LeBlanc

Not content at just shining on the soccer pitch, LeBlanc decided to take her messages of empowerment to people around the world as a UNICEF ambassador.

“If [John] had not asked me that question, I don’t think I’d be here today,” she said.
“I probably wouldn’t have retired [and] I probably wouldn’t have become a UNICEF ambassador.”

READ MORE: Leadership Series presented by Global News and CKNW

After starting off in Canada in an uncomfortable situation, LeBlanc says now, nothing is ever scripted for her.

“I want to know who I’m connecting with.. and honestly, I live every day uncomfortably and I’m loving it. Once you taste that sense of fulfillment and you’re living your purpose of your journey on earth…. it’s amazing.”

When it comes to being a leader and leadership, LeBlanc believes ego has to be checked at the door but that essentially everyone has the ability to lead.

“We are all leaders… we all have stories in our lives where things that have been difficult and we’ve come out the other side — and leadership comes from that. And I think leadership for me is the ability to empower others to be their best version and do so yourself.”

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WATCH: Web exclusive Q & A with Karina LeBlanc

Global News and CKNW’s Leadership Series, presented by FortisBC:

Airs on BC1

  • Dec 2 @ 10:30 a.m. & 2 p.m.
  • Dec 3 @ 3:30 p.m. & 4:30 p.m.
  • Dec 4 @ 11:30 a.m.

Airs on CKNW

  • Dec 2 @ 1 p.m.
  • Dec 3 @ 3 p.m.
  • Dec 4 @ 3 p.m.

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