9 Leadership Lessons From My Baseball Days
Autumn here in the northern hemisphere is a spectacular time of year with the change of seasons and cool crisp air. Schools and universities start, companies gear up for the final year push, and a number of sports play out concurrently from city to pro leagues.
While hockey, soccer, American and Canadian football, and Rugby World Cup seasons are upon us, it’s the waning month of baseball that makes me hearken back to my ball-playing days and the lessons I learned over the years. From Little League up through my short-lived college career, it was not just the sport that I embraced, but the leadership lessons that developed over the years. Here is what I learned about leadership on (and off) the diamond:
- Have a contagious winning attitude. 90% of any sport is mental, many people say. The best team I was ever on was my senior team in which we believed we could compete with anyone. If anyone’s mindset was that we stunk, we started to sense that and not play to our potential. It was believing we could win that enabled us to give the state champs some hard fought games. Always come every day ready to play, never to quit, but especially to win. If anyone doubts, keep your team positive and get those who waver to re-kindle the vision.
- Always work on the fundamentals. During our best year, we want back to the basics, and learned to master throwing, running, and batting. It was amazing to see our skills improve, even though we knew (so we said) how to do those things. Some of the most successful companies (Toyota, Wal-Mart, IBM, Disney, Marriott) became global brands by beating their competition in executing the fundamentals. If it worked for those industry giants, imagine how mastering the basics will work for your team.
- Don’t neglect the unpleasant but vital tasks. As much as we drilled on the fundamentals, we devoted just as much time to stretching and conditioning. We hated these “useless” tasks every practice, but started to feel the results as the season progressed. We were looser, less sore, and had more stamina then the year before we implemented them. A lot of the most important work in leadership is the unpleasant conditioning of planning, thinking, dreaming, training, and connecting with your team. Yet it’s those same tasks that give you the edge and stamina to win in the marketplace.
- “Root, root, root for the home team.” Cheer for your team, wherever you are. There was no better feeling stepping into the batter’s box then having your coach or team cheer you on. When you’re playing well, it spurs you on. When you’re in a slump, it shows they trust you and you strive to perform well. Be your team’s best cheerleader, even if you’re on the bench. Even better, create a culture in which everyone promotes and cheers each other to succeed.
- “If you don’t get dirty, you didn’t play the game”. This always meant to us to play hard and dig right into the game. Beat out every ground ball. Play hard, don’t pull up. Give 110% in practice. Be mentally in the game, every pitch. Many games were won by a run because we stole a base or legged out a ground ball. By putting your entire self into the task at hand, you can gain that extra effort and satisfaction of incremental wins, small goals achieved, and little discoveries that will get you that much closer to your vision.
- “Watch the seams.” The best players are the ones who can watch the rotation of the seams of a baseball and know what the pitch will do. By studying your craft or your industry and discerning the times, the markets, and pulse of your people, you can make some quick and timely decisions that will set you up for action (swinging) or to pause and redirect (not to swing). Study what’s being thrown at you and respond accordingly.
- “It’s a team game.” Baseball is unique in that there is a game within a game. There is the batter vs. pitcher game in every pitch that works within the backdrop of the team trying to score or get three outs. In your company, people have individual goals that should tie into the overall goal of the organization. When the players win, the team wins. If they struggle, so does the team. Be effective in training your people to succeed in their roles so the company benefits from their collective efforts.
- Find a great mentor. My personal best year was when we got a new assistant coach, Coach Morrisson. He was a student of the game and took a liking to me my senior year. He challenged me to work hard, tweak some bad habits, and believe in my talents. It was not just a great statistical year for me (MVP runner-up) but I had someone who knew what I needed to learn and was bold enough to challenge and show me. Find yourself a coach or a mentor and start growing in ways you never thought possible.
- Make a complete team by blending strengths. A good coach will find his players’ strengths and compliment them by shuffling the lineup or changing their position to maximize their talent. A good infield needs to intuitively know were each other will be. A great catcher will be able to understand what the pitcher is thinking. By knowing your people, finding their strengths, and working those abilities into the overall gameplan, you will be able to build a greater team than what the individual players make up. Place them where they are most effective, grow the most, and make the most impact.
In business, sports, families, churches, or any organization, these lessons serve us well in building effective teams. Be a winning coach by implementing these strategies as your ultimate gameplan.