Last week, I had the pleasure of being invited to speak at the Management Grand Rounds held at Boston Children’s Hospital. As with every speaking engagement I do, the part I look forward to the most is being able to meet with audience members to hear about their experiences and what insights they’ve gained from my talk.
In the case of my talk at Boston Children’s Hospital, it was wonderful to hear the level of interest among many of the leaders in the audience of how they could become better leaders for their employees. Seeing that drive and desire to not rest on their laurels but to embrace the challenges before them was energizing and inspiring.
After getting a tour of their remarkable facilities, I decided to wander around Boston to take in the sights, including a walk by Fenway Park during an afternoon baseball game.
As I heard the roars of the crowd rise up from the stadium, I noticed a series of banners paying tribute to some of the city’s beloved Boston Red Sox players. Among those banners, a name caught my eye – that of Babe Ruth.
Seeing that name on that red banner reminded me of a piece I had written several years ago on leadership lessons revealed from how Babe Ruth approached playing the game he loved as he grew older.
To show my appreciation for the warmth and generosity I received from the various leaders at Boston Children’s Hospital, I would like to share that story alongside three important leadership lessons on how we can be the kind of leader our employees need us to be.
In October 1932, the New York Yankees were facing off against the Chicago Cubs in the World Series Championship. For most of the Yankees team, things were going great as they were going into Game Three having won the first two. For Babe Ruth, things were far from great as he was in the midst of a batting slump.
As if things couldn’t get worse, at the halfway mark of Game Three, Ruth found himself standing at home plate with two strikes against him and his own home crowd booing him. In light of his declining physical abilities and the stream of negativity coming from the crowd around him, it seemed a given that he would strikeout at home plate.
And yet, when the next pitch came, Ruth not only hit the ball, but he hit it with such force that it became one of the longest home runs ever made at Wrigley Field.
At the end of the game, a reporter asked Babe Ruth what he was thinking about at that moment when he hit that ball out into the end zone. Ruth told him it was the same thought that comes to mind every time he’s at bat – of “just hittin’ that ball”.
It was certainly a humble and memorable response on Ruth’s part, but in its own way, this story helps us to understand three important lessons on how leaders can successfully lead their team in today’s faster-paced, ever-changing workplace environment.
1. Keep your focus on what matters, not on what gets your attention
“You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.” – Babe Ruth
One thing that’s obvious from this story about Babe Ruth is that he clearly had this ability to tune out whatever distractions were around him so he could focus on doing his part to help his team win. Despite being in that batting slump and facing the vocal frustration of his own fans, Ruth never lost sight of where he needed to put his focus; of what really mattered for his team to succeed.
Thankfully, most leaders will never face a heckling audience, but the reality of today’s workplaces is that we will face increasing demands on our time, energy, and resources. Faced with this onslaught, it’s easy for us to simply focus on the things we want to get done, as opposed to what our employees require from us to collectively move forward.
In our rush to get things done, we risk losing out on providing context for why these efforts matter [Share on Twitter]; of how this matters in terms of us achieving the shared purpose that defines why we do what we do.
In looking at this story about Babe Ruth, it’s clear that had he focused on his batting slump and on the negative calls raining down on him from the stands, he would’ve never succeeded in hitting that home run.
By keeping his focus on what mattered to his team, he was able to shut out the distractions vying for his attention, thereby making one of the most memorable home runs in his baseball career.
2. Learn to see failure outside the context of your past successes
Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” – Babe Ruth
Regardless of what position you hold in your organization, one thing we all dread are those times when we have to deal with some form of failure. Indeed, if there’s one by-product of the faster-pace by which we now have to operate, it’s that we’re becoming more risk-adverse than risk-taking in order to ensure we don’t find ourselves taking a major tumble because of something we overlooked.
Of course, while failure of any kind can be difficult, the real problem many of us face is viewing our failures from the lens of our past successes. This is one of the traps successful people can risk falling into – of putting so much stock in their past achievements that they become unable to push themselves to try harder or to be better than what allowed them to succeed in the past.
What we overlook is the fact that it was that initial hunger to succeed that propelled us forward in the first place; to push ourselves because we believed in our potential to achieve this desired goal.
In looking at how Babe Ruth faced this situation of being at the World Series while grappling with growing old and being in a batting slump, it’s clear that Ruth kept his failures firmly planted in the present as a challenge to overcome today so that – as he had done in the past – he could help his team achieve success yet again.
Ruth’s example here reflects a point I shared with the leaders at my talk at the Management Grand Rounds last week – that as much as we’re defined by our successes, we are also a product of our failures [Share on Twitter].
After all, while our past successes might have brought us to where we are right now, it’s only by keeping our focus on challenging ourselves to be better than we are today that we can continue to reap such achievements in the future.
3. To succeed, you have to love and respect what you do
Baseball was, is and always will be to me the best game in the world.” – Babe Ruth
Following my talk last week at Boston Children’s Hospital, the organizer of this series mentioned to me how it was clear to everyone in the room how much I enjoyed speaking about leadership and sharing my insights on how we can become better leaders for our employees.
It’s a comment I’ve heard before from other conference organizers and leaders who’ve attended my talks and every time, it makes me smile knowing that people can see how much I love what I do.
These comments also reinforce another point I shared during my talk last week – that our real strengths have less to do with what we’re good at and more with understanding what makes us feel like we’re doing our life’s work.
Indeed, the reality is that we all want to know that what we do matters; that it makes a difference [Share on Twitter] and creates a sense of value both for ourselves and for those we serve.
Again, as leaders facing these increasing demands on our time, attention, and resources, it’s easy for us to slowly shift away from that anchor point as we grapple with trying to clear tasks and obligations from our field of view.
And yet, what’s key to connecting what we do with why we do what we do is tapping into those very things that matter to us, that matter to our employees, and connecting that to the collective work we do.
Again, looking at Babe Ruth’s example during that World Series game, he could’ve just settled for accepting that he wasn’t as good a player as he used to be. But as the quote above points out, he simply had too much love for the game and too much respect for his team to do anything less than his very best at that moment.
Ultimately, the faster-paced, interconnected global environment that we all have to operate in means that each of us will inevitably face a situation like Babe Ruth did in that World Series game, where we might feel like we’re facing our own version of a leadership slump and with it, losing the support of those we’re supposed to guide forward.
But like Babe Ruth, we don’t have to succumb to today’s reality, thinking that we can’t achieve more. Instead, we have to remember our ability to rise above the challenges that stand before us so we can continue to help drive the collective success of those we lead.
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