Leadership lessons can be found in any number of places. You’ve all experienced many of the teaching tools in Neck Up – quotes, blogs, books, workshops, discussions, presentations, audios, etc. One tool that often goes overlooked is our everyday experience. So many lessons can be learned from watching those around us, and sometimes the people around us that teach us the lessons are not who you would expect.
This was certainly the case with one of the 12 years old and under Little League baseball teams that I coached this year. Although I had coached one team for 8 years consecutively, I had not planned on coaching two teams. Due to the large number of kids trying out, I was asked to coach a second team (Iola and Waupaca) after tryouts had taken place. I had some idea of who I was drafting, but because I didn’t actually see tryouts (because I wasn’t supposed to coach) I wasn’t too sure of the team that had been assembled. It was apparent after our first couple of practices, and certainly our first couple of games, that the team lacked the raw talent compared to the other teams in the league. We would not be winning the regular season championship to say the least. However, I told the boys that our goal was to get a little better each game. I planned to use the “slight edge philosophy” you all have learned about. We might not win many games during the regular season, but if we improved incrementally each game, I figured we could get good enough to make a run for the end of year tournament championship.
The plan worked well. We had improved a little each game, except for one anomaly. We managed to squeeze out 2 wins to our 7 losses, although we still finished last. This meant we were seeded against the #1 team in the tournament. Few gave us a shot. To be honest, deep down that included me but I didn’t let the kids see this.
ENTER IN EXTREME ADVERSITY AND THE CURSE OF EGO
Not only were few giving us a shot, but one boy was on vacation, one boy was in a soccer tournament, and another boy was in a basketball tournament. This left us with 7 boys on the field instead of the customary 9 against a fully staffed #1 team that we had not beaten in the regular season. THIS WAS EXACTLY THE EXTREME ADVERSITY THAT THE DOCTOR HAD ORDERED!!!!
My method of coaching is to love the boys through their challenges and create only a little adversity. My assistant coach prefers the opposite technique and isn’t afraid to let the young men know they stunk it up during an inning or how badly they should want to beat the other team. He, however, usually lets me use my technique.
The adversity was real, huge, and you could see the poor attitude on the boys’ faces. Today was not the time for love. Today we needed to light some fires under these boys. My assistant coach was charged with one-on-one behind the scenes pep talks that were not the normal softer talks I had given all year. During the team pep talk, I used a different approach than they had ever seen from me. I believe I even told them I’d like to “kick the other team’s butt.” This language is mild to what I used to use in my playing days; however, this was over the top given what they were used to hearing from me. The boys responded to the adversity and the changed leadership technique. The other team, infected with ego, lacked the drive of the 7 boys. Our team knocked off the top seed.
The fairytale continued as we played the second seed in the next round. This time we started with 9 players and were promptly hampered by a sprained ankle. I told the boys, “we beat the #1 seed with 7 players, why not the #2 seed with 8 players?” It took extra innings, but we did.
The fairytale continued until the last inning of the championship game. A meltdown in the top of the 6th turned out to be insurmountable. But, what a run and what great team leadership lessons. They mastered the strategy of the slight edge. They stretched themselves and used adversity and discomfort to their advantage. And, they took advantage of the ego infection of the #1 seed.
Sometimes you can learn a lot from everyday experiences if you pay attention.
Please tell us about a time when an everyday experience taught you a great leadership lesson and/or tell us about a time when a team you were on finally excelled only after they encountered extreme adversity.