April is not my favorite month of the year but, it does include one of my favorite days of the year. Say hey… it is Opening Day! My love of baseball has been at the center of life since I was tall enough to reach the t-ball stand. Today, we celebrate the smell of ballpark brats and the sounds of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” pitched from the pipes of the park’s organist throughout the country. For fans of baseball, Opening Day serves as a symbol of rebirth. There is a rekindling of hope, a chance to forget last season, and remarkable lessons on influence. Baseball is truly a reflection of the American society and rich in the meanings of the warp and woof of leadership.
What leadership lessons can we pull from America’s pastime?
Nine Innings of Influence – Leadership Lessons from Baseball
First Inning: It’s about TEAM
I believe more than any other team sport, baseball capitalizes on the influence made by the collection of individuals on the field. A dominant pitcher only plays every few days. The crushing long-ball hitter only appears at the plate on the average of 4-5 times a game. The most successful leaders realize that the whole team is greater than the sum of its members. While it is great to have remarkable talent, it is the whole of the organization working together toward a common vision produces success.
Second Inning: Be Prepared For Curve Balls
“The only constant is change,” is a well-noted truth. In baseball, one-dimensional fastball hitters won’t last in the majors unless they can hit the deceptive curve or change up. Similarly, great leaders are responsive and adaptable, standing at attention for anything and everything that might surface or surprise. Successful leaders can knock expected fastballs out of the park, while also responding to the unanticipated sliders that are thrown at them every so often.
Third Inning: Home Runs Don’t Happen Without a Strong, Fluid Swing
Successful leaders have the skill set of BIG thinking coupled with BIG actions. Organizations can’t accomplish large breakthrough unless the bold aspirations, widely embraced visions and deeply detailed plans converge.
Fourth Inning: Never Go Down Looking
Great leaders have strong values and convictions and never leave their bats on the shoulder when action is necessary. Yes, it is important as a hitter and leader to be patient and wait for a preferred pitch, however with two strikes, everyone must choke up and be ready to swing the bat of responsibility and accountability.
Fifth Inning: The Most Valuable Players Are Not Afraid to Get Their Uniforms Dirty
Secure leaders lead by example and at times may require sliding head first to support or challenge their teams during times of difficulty. When the leader has a little dirt on the uniform, it inspires others to bite down, work harder, and more successfully grit through challenges they face.
Sixth Inning: Measurement Matters
One of my favorite baseball movies is Moneyball and highlights the story of the 2002 Oakland A’s led by the unconventional leadership strategies of manager Billy Beane. Bean demonstrated that by measuring statistics such as on-base percentage, he could on-board talent that most teams perceived as cast-offs. Great leaders are keenly aware and use all of the data they can get their hands on to analyze and make informed organizational decisions.
Seventh Inning: Keep Your Eye on the Ball
One of the most difficult skills in baseball is hitting a blistering fast or mysteriously dancing pitch. In order to be successful, players must be laser-focused on the ball. In leadership, it is also essential to stay unswervingly focused upon your mission, vision and key priorities for your organization’s success.
Inning Eight: Hit The Ball Where They “Ain’t”
This essentially means it does not matter how hard you hit the ball, just be strategic to get the ball in fair play. A hit is a hit right? In the same way, great leaders realize that as long as they can serve a felt need and solve real problems, they can build and sustain successful relationships and organizations. The business plan does not need to mirror the next Amazon or Google, but rather delivering a regular rhythm of simple, scalable, and sustainable performance is the key for enduring success.
Inning Nine: Great Talent Can Win Games, But Teams Win Championships
Player chemistry trumps all. Teams might field the best batting and fielding talent in the league or may be led by the sharpest minds of the game. That alone may not be enough to get you into post-season play. If players don’t gel and the team’s culture is toxic- winning the World Series becomes nothing more than wishful thinking. Team chemistry is the positive consequence generated vis-a’-vis strong relationships and healthy cultures. As the telling line points out… “Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch!”
In business and life, the game of baseball reflects great truths for personal endurance and organizational success. On both professional fields, the season can be ridiculously long and grueling. Maintaining balance, consistency, and poise for 162 games may vote you into the All-Star Game. The same qualities mark a Leader Worth Following.
As Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
- Which of these baseball leadership lessons best resonates with you?
- What makes you a great leader? What makes your team a great team?
- Extra Innings? What more would you add to the strategies above?
- Prognosticators: Who will be in the World Series this year?
Looking for more leadership insights and learning how to become a leader worth following? Consider joining our April Executive Core program. For more information, visit www.giantworldwide.com/executive-core.
Photo courtesy of Keith Allison.