"It's like deja vu, all over again." --Yogi Berra
One of my favorite holidays of the year is here: Opening Day in Major League Baseball. My love of baseball runs deep -- note the photo from my baseball stadium wedding below -- and my love of baseball is year-round. But there's only so far watching Field of Dreams and playing simulated games can take me during the winter.
But today, spring is in the air! For baseball fans throughout the country and world, hope springs eternal. I'm en route to Washington to see the Mets road opener today, and I'll be headed out to Citi Field in Flushing, Queens next Thursday to catch my 33rd consecutive New York Mets home opener. In the meantime, here are 9 timeless leadership lessons from America's pastime: one for each inning. Whether you're a baseball fan or not, you can benefit from applying the game's most important lessons:
1. You can't hit a home run unless you swing for the fences.
Leaders must think big, and act big. You can't accomplish huge things unless you go for it. Of course, in baseball, with two strikes, you should choke up, and just try to make solid contact -- and in business, there is a time to settle for less than a home run. But always start by thinking big.
2. The best players aren't afraid to get their uniforms dirty.
Leaders must live by example, and that means demonstrating they can get "in the weeds" and handle basic, menial tasks when necessary. As CEO of a startup, I know that we're too small to have too many defined roles at the organization. If I have to take the garbage out sometimes -- that's okay. Sometimes getting your uniform dirty inspires others to work that much harder.
3. Measure everything that matters.
Billy Beane ushered in a new era in baseball with the 2002 Oakland As. Made famous by the book and movie Moneyball, Beane demonstrated that by measuring statistics such as on-base percentage, he could field a competitive team for less money than the teams who relied on gut instincts alone. Great leaders use all of the data and analysis they can get their hands on to make smart, informed decisions.
4. It's more about the team than about any one superstar.
In baseball, more than in any other team sport, individuals make less of a difference than the whole team. Even a dominant pitcher only plays once every five days. Similarly, the best leaders recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and while it's great to have top talent -- it's the whole organization which must perform in order to succeed.
5. Don't go down looking.
It's important as a hitter to be patient and wait for your pitch -- but with two strikes against you, you've got to swing the bat. (Mets fans will recall, we learned this the hard way with Carlos Beltran in 2006.) Great leaders have strong convictions, and they don't go down without a fight for what they believe in.
6. Keep your eye on the ball.
Hitting a major league pitch is one of the most difficult tasks in sports, if not the most difficult. In order to succeed, players must be laser focused on the ball coming at them at 80-100 miles per hour. In business, it's also essential to stay focused.
Great leaders know at any given moment what their top priorities are for the day, month, quarter, and year.
The best leaders are focused even on a 3-5 year plan. What are you focused on today?
7. Hit 'em where they ain't.
Willie Keeler, one of the greatest hitters of all time, coined this phrase, which essentially means it doesn't matter how hard you hit the ball, just hit it where the opposing players aren't standing, and you can get a hit. In the same way, great entrepreneurs realize that as long as they can find a market need, and solve an existing problem, they can build a successful organization. It doesn't have to be sexy, and you don't have the build the next Google or Facebook to be a great leader.
8. Be ready for a curveball -- or a change-up.
You can be a great fastball hitter, but unless you can hit a major league curveball and change up, it won't matter. Isaac Asimov said, "The only constant is change." Great leaders are responsive and adaptable -- they know that in order to succeed, they'll have to ready their organizations for anything and everything. Key players can knock a fastball out of the park, but are also prepared for the unexpected.
9. Talent wins games, but team chemistry wins championships.
You can have the best players in the league and the smartest, most strategic manager and coaches -- and that might even win a lot of games. But if the players don't get along well -- if the team doesn't gel -- if the entire group doesn't have great chemistry -- they won't win a championship. Famed management expert and author Peter Drucker once said, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." The best leaders recognize that more important than any vision or strategy is building a team that believes in each other and in the organization.
Opening Day reminds us of all that can be great -- it's a fresh start for 30 baseball teams, and their millions of fans. It's also a fresh start for you. Whether you're a CEO, entrepreneur, manager, entry level employee or student, you can apply these simple lessons to become a better leader.
Hope does, in fact, spring eternal.
Now it's your turn. Which of these leadership lessons from baseball resonates most with you? What else would you add? What makes you a good leader? And (why not?) what baseball team do you predict will win the World Series this year? Let me know in the comments section below. And remember, in baseball, in business, and in life, as Yogi Berra said, "It ain't over till it's over."