Baseball & Leadership: Making Adjustments

Last November, Joe Mauer became only the second catcher three decades to win the American League Most Valuable Player award.  His stats?  A .365 batting average, with an on-base percentage of .444 and a whopping .587 slugging percentage.  He hit 28 home runs and batted in 96 runners in the 2009 campaign.  Impressive numbers, to be sure!

So, how did Mauer accomplish these feats?  Sure, he has phenomenal natural ability and a noteworthy work ethic.  Yes, he has 12 million reasons to perform, particularly with the possibility of free agency a mere year away.  But it goes well beyond those reasons…and after all, we know that extrinsic rewards only go so far in motivating individuals. 

I could extrapolate for hours on the myriad motivations and psychological factors that drive professionals (in any field) toward success.  But let’s keep this at the most fundamental level…it’s Mauer’s willingness to make incremental changes that ultimately led to his success.

The worn-out cliché that even the best hitters in baseball fail 60-70 percent of the time has been paraded out as a clarion call for sales.  I won’t even go there and risk boring the heck out of you, the reader.  Instead, I simply want to focus on the adaptability that such a statistic engenders.  Let’s look at this from a leadership perspective.

In attempting changes in an organization, a leader was heard to state, “The greatest risk we face is that we may succeed.” 

Think about that for a second!  The results of our innovative efforts might require admitting that the tried and true methods of the past are no longer relevant.  While an exhilarating notion for many, from the standpoint of those who have relied on traditional styles of leadership and work processes, this can be incredibly threatening. 

For many, the only thing more challenging than leading others through change is accepting that changes are needed within oneself – behaviors, skills and even attitudes.  Self-awareness, a healthy desire for continuous self-development and openness to receiving tough messages are essential leadership competencies.  In many ways, there are also the bases of strong emotional intelligence and transformational leadership.

So what does this have to do with baseball?  Simply put, hitting is not simply about one’s willingness to risk failure.  To be an MVP batter, one also needs to be constantly adjusting and tweaking your swing in order to stay on top of your game.  All players hit slumps.  Mauer was no exception, even in his MVP season last summer.  But he made necessary adjustments and ended up on top.  Show me a ballplayer unwilling to make incremental changes to his swing, and I’ll quickly show you a former ballplayer.

With the impending leadership talent gap in organizations, you’d better believe that the same principle applies to leadership.  So, accept that change will be the only constant moving forward and work toward become more adaptable as a leader.  Do that, and you’ll stay in the game.  Fail, and there’s always a bench in need of warming!

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