Many friends and business leaders – and most recently Dov Seidman, the CEO of my company – have reminded me how baseball is a sport where you can be an all-star even if you fail 7 out of 10 times. Even Robert F. Kennedy once said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
Yet when my youngest son Drew came to the plate with two outs in the last inning of a recent game, with two men on base and his baseball team down by one run, the last thing on my mind was failure. As parents we all pressed a little closer to the field, anticipating a game winning blast from one of the team’s best hitters. But instead Drew swung and missed, and slammed down his helmet in frustration as the parents and players simultaneously gasped in surprise. But in the middle of heading back to the dugout to collect his equipment, my son suddenly turned, gathered his teammates, and led them across the field to shake hands with the other team. By the time Drew was back in the dugout, he was already smiling, dissecting the things that went wrong with this at bat, and congratulating his teammates on a well played game.
In spite of his failure that day as a baseball player, Drew succeeded as a leader in three key ways from which we all can learn:
1. Like all great leaders in our increasingly complex 21st century world, Drew embraced transparency. He didn't hide the reasons for his failure nor try to pass the blame to others (the sun was in his eyes, the dog ate his homework, or he never received the all important e-mail). Instead he looked at me and stated, "Dad, I couldn't slow down my heart beat!" My son was simply nervous, and the coaches and I were able to use those insights to better prepare Drew and his teammates for the next set of pressure filled moments. Great leaders are transparent so others can learn from them.
2. Like other memorable leaders, Drew re-framed and re-thought his circumstances. Rather than wallow in the disappointment of his untimely missed swing, Drew rethought the situation and realized there was more to the game and to his team's success than a single at bat. In fact, Drew's team has a strong culture of teamwork and "we" above "me" (thanks coaches Chris, Bill, Jerry and Tom) and his quick action to gather his teammates and head across the field shifted the focus from his individual disappointment to a celebration of a great comeback by his team. Great leaders re-frame and rethink circumstances to propel themselves and others to achieve breakthrough outcomes (which in this case included an even better comeback by Drew's team the following weekend).
3. Like the most successful leaders of today, Drew lived and shared sustainable core values. Drew knew generosity, sportsmanship, and humility were values essential to his ability to compete, win, and be a leader on his team. It's easy to be the teammate who hits home runs, guns down base runners at second base, or closes the big deal, but a true leader carries himself the same way regardless of the immediate circumstances and situation.
Though our team didn't win that game, I left the field feeling like I won so much more in having learned that day from my son's incredible acts of leadership.
And in case you are wondering, Drew’s next time at bat ended with a line shot into right field and Drew rounding first base with a solid base hit. Perhaps his next failure will be a few more games away…