Leadership from the Dirt

Trenton Cycholl, my mentor and friend, is an innovative technology leader for a multi-billion dollar business. His personal style is values driven, fostering respect, humility, integrity and conviction. He wrote this article last year during the height of baseball season, connecting work, play and kindness. And he has allowed me to share it with all of you. Enjoy…

It’s a great time of year for baseball fans with Major League Baseball in the opening week of the season and I am personally nearing the end of a middle school baseball season. I am blessed to have the opportunity by spending some late afternoons at the baseball fields teaching and mentoring players as they live their dreams. Learning at the fields is always two-way though. While teaching players skills relating to baseball, they are able to share many lessons that can be valuable in business and work. One area I noticed over the last few seasons is with leadership and applying lessons from the baseball team to teams in business. I have read many articles on leadership with suggestions on becoming great leaders and ways to grow leadership skills. They are helpful and definitely insightful, but I tend to enjoy experience first-hand to learn and create a “lens” to share with others. From the fields (or dirt) I have watched leadership form and grow throughout the seasons as players enjoy baseball through their middle school years. Below are a few areas I thought I could share and possibly be of use in other roles and teams we manage in business.

Leaders are not assigned by a manager or coach, they are chosen by the team.

As teams come together every year, there is a “sorting out” among the group that occurs. All players start to assume roles (not necessarily positions) on the team. There always seems to be someone who stands out and becomes a focus for other team members. Coaches have some influence, but ultimately, no matter what influence coaches try to have forcing someone to be a leader, it happens naturally and without assignment. While at the office, watch for individuals that seem to draw interest from other team members when challenges exist or a time that teams might be at significant stress levels. The team has great insight into leaders they want to follow and will look to that leader naturally.

Leaders are not always the most statistically significant players.

Though it can be helpful, sometimes, the leader on a team is not the one with the highest average, or the person who executes projects most effectively. In fact, it seems that leadership among more average players creates a better connection for others to relate and follow more easily. A few times on baseball teams I have coached, the leader is not even someone who plays regularly. It might be someone who uses time in the dugout to influence and drive the team forward. Leaders can be found in many places in business, but don’t always focus on the person knocking projects out of the park or the player that always seems to have solutions and answers.

Leaders are confident and have presence under pressure, but not always through individual success.

A leader has significant presence when there is a close game or a play is needed to win a game. In baseball, it might not be the player who hits a home run when you need it or makes a diving catch to save a run in the last inning. It is not necessarily that leader executing to be the star, but more importantly, you always know they are there and bring calmness to the situation. The play may be made by superstars on the team, but without exception, a leader is involved and influencing in some way. At work, there may be projects that have challenges, but there are individuals that might be buried in details bringing success to projects through motivations not directly tied to the execution of a project. Watch for leaders “hiding” among the success plays of projects.

Every situation we are involved in can bring surprises and learning. There is always something to learn no matter where we are at and who might be teaching us.