Three Lessons That Move Your Leadership From Good to Great

“God, I love baseball,” mutters Roy Hobbs from his hospital bed at Tower Maternity.

“I’m right there with you, Roy,” I respond, choking back sobs as we share in this tender moment.

It’s an emotional scene toward the climactic ending of the film ‘The Natural’, with Robert Redford starring as the title character.

My role was watching from the couch, working through a second glass of red wine while my cheeks glistened like two slices of hot cheese pizza.

The moment captures a common love of Baseball, one that bonds fiction with reality not only through exquisite highs and unbearable lows, but the focus and determination required to achieve success.  

Practical wisdom exists in stories as told to me by the people who lived them. Each has not only influenced my love and respect for the Grand Old Game, but my ability to develop the natural talents of those around me.

Being Mentally Prepared

Romano had been a First-Round pick in the MLB Draft coming out of high school.

During the off-season, the club had signed one of the game’s premier talents. While only a couple of years older, this star player was well on his way to becoming one of the league’s most prolific home run hitters. He also adopted the role of mentor, a sort of big brother relationship with Romano.

One day, the star approached him during batting practice. “Romano,” he asked, “what are you thinking about when you are on deck, getting ready to bat?”

Romano shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I’m looking for my family in the stands, hoping not to strike out, not do something that would embarrass myself.”

“No, Romano, I mean it.” the star persisted. “What’s going through your mind as you’re getting ready to hit?”

Romano admitted he didn’t understand the questioning. “I don’t know, nothing really, I guess.”

“Then you’re not prepared. You know what I do?” Romano didn’t know but felt certain he was about to find out.

“I repeat this to myself, over and over: Fastball middle in, line-drive back up the middle.”

“Why?” asked Romano.

“Discipline. I may not know what pitch will be thrown, but I know what I’m looking for, so my body is ready to respond when I see it. Then I focus on hitting a line drive back up the middle, keeping my technique aligned with the best chance for success.”

“You’re doing all that, while on deck?” Romano asked. “Seems like a lot.”

“Do you want to be good or be great? The difference begins in your mind.”

Tall Tim Breakdown:

Mental preparation and focus are the differences between merely performing and excelling at what you do.

The star went into each day, every at bat, mentally prepared to succeed at the basics. Can you say the same for your approach to every shift or performance/service opportunity?

Romano was curious as to where all the home runs were coming from.

Home runs, the star admitted, resulted from circumstances beyond his control. He never approached an at-bat thinking about hitting a home run. Instead, he thought about being productive and then seized the opportunity to do more when it presented itself.

Adopt this same mindset. Discipline yourself to execute the basics, day in, day out. This will build confidence in your ability to consistently perform at a high level and instill trust in those around you.

Then pounce on every opportunity to do more . . . your version of hitting a bad pitch ten rows up in the left field bleachers.

Love What You Do

The Vice President for a local accounting firm was a huge baseball fan, and good friends with the General Manager of a Major League team.

He gladly accepted an invitation to join the GM on the field during a Spring Training workout. Having watched the established players go through drills on the A field, the duo moved over to watch some of the non-roster invitees take batting practice on the B field.

It was an impressive sight. The hitters were spraying the field with line drives and balls hit deep into the outfield. The VP asked the GM how many of the players he thought would make the Big Club this spring?

“None of them,” the GM calmly replied. Noticing his friend’s confused expression, he went on to explain.

“Each of these players has a fatal flaw in their game that will prevent them from ever playing with the Big Club.”

“Then why do they do it?” the VP asked.

“Love of the game.”

Tall Tim Breakdown

Love what you do and understand how you contribute to the overall success of an organization.

The GM described the reality of employing more than 300 players so a young star like Mike Trout or Francisco Lindor can develop, make it to the Big Leagues, and help the organization remain successful.

Every player in their system is a professional who loves to play the game and understands how they contribute to this process.

You may not evaluate employees for fatal flaws, but do they (a) love what they do, and the business they’re in? and (b) understand how they contribute to the overall success of the organization?

Go deeper: How many of your employees will become high level executives or members of the Board? Not many.

Yet those that do will depend on the experiences shared working their way “up the ladder”. Each level of growth depends on being in the presence of passionate professionals.

Tailor your talent selection process to look for these qualities, then recognize employees for their contributions to your team’s overall success.

Your next Executive VP will thank you for it.

Don’t Make This Too Hard

It’s the stuff movies are made of.

At 35 years old, Jimmy Morris became professional baseball’s oldest rookie. Making his major league pitching debut in front of more than 40,000 fans, you can only imagine what was going through his mind.

This moment was captured in the movie ‘The Rookie’. Following a long walk from the bullpen, his manager meets him on the pitcher’s mound and asks, “A little louder than back home?”

Jimmy nods his head.

The manager continues, “You know that fastball you were showing me before the game? Well, I need three of ‘em.”

Jimmy nods again, the simplicity of the message adding clarity to the moment.

Years later I had the opportunity to ask the real-life manager “Is that what you really said?”

“Oh, I don’t remember.” he admitted, “That’s Jimmy’s memory.”

Tall Tim Breakdown

A calming presence breeds resilience and provides the clarity necessary to perform.

The manager had made countless trips to the mound over his career, many involving a player’s major league debut. He did admit the scripting sounded like something he might have said, but he couldn’t say for sure.

It wasn’t so much what he said, but how he said it that is our lesson for today.

Everyone is anxious in that moment: the player, his family, basically anyone who has an emotional investment in the outcome. The manager understood his role was to minimize those distractions, and redirect focus to something more manageable to the player.

How do you approach an anxious, highly charged emotional moment with your team?

Do you add to the level of anxiety? Or do you provide clarity, speaking with certainty and confidence to cut through the chaos and focus on what matters most?

You’re going to be part of a person’s memory one way or the other. Make it a positive recollection, even if it isn’t a storybook ending.

Bottom of the Ninth

Baseball is at times viewed as a game of failure, where one person’s success can be measured against the inability of another to get the job done.

In that light, we have shared three stories to help maintain a proper perspective:

Mental preparation and focus are the difference between merely performing and excelling at what you do.

Love what you do and understand how you contribute to the overall success of an organization

A calming presence breeds resilience and provides the clarity necessary to perform.

The consistent thread among these is the mental investment necessary to prepare for success. As the great Yogi Berra once quipped, “This game is 90% mental. The other half is physical.”

Make sure you’re prepared for both.

Thanks for playing ball with Tall Tim Talks!

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