Season’s greetings! It’s that time again. Well, yes, the holidays, but also for another exciting edition of the Leadership Toolbox! Capt. Fletch here, hoping this holiday season finds you merry and bright. Last month, we discussed the near-term future of leadership and the importance of leading with an open mind. This month, I wanted to try something new.
As many of you know, I am a proud dad of two kids who have taught me more about leadership than any training or deployment could have. Well, this fall I volunteered again to coach my son’s baseball team for the season after we lost the championship game in the spring by one run. As fates would have it, we made it back to the championship game several weeks ago. Yet, again we lost by — you guessed it — one run.
As I reflected on this latest season, and all the boys had accomplished, words to describe it began to appear in my mind. My mind wandered to my son’s common core math homework, perhaps because he always asks me to help him with it. Leaping between those ideas gave me inspiration for this month’s column: common words and how they relate to leadership.
If we want to reunite with each other in healthy discussions — even if we disagree — as I urged last month, we can start with things we have in common. I found it intriguing to explore common, simple words and see how they connect to leadership, so let’s give it a shot. And, in the spirit of the holidays, I’ll be generous and offer two words instead of just one: patience and adversity.
Let’s talk patience first. Coaching youth sports is not meant for impatient leaders. It takes a great deal of restraint to teach, practice, advise and support young kids as they learn and try to execute a game plan. I often tell my wife, “It is harder to be a coach than it was to be a player.” I wish I could be on the field with the team. Instead, I am constrained to the dugout. I watch with anticipation, and sometimes quiet frustration, when a kid does the exact opposite of what I instructed them to do, only to discover that, had they listened, they would have executed the play correctly. Of course, I am not always 100% correct but most of the time I make the right call.
I watched many other coaches across the field from me this season. Many of them yelled. Some of them exhibited the worst sportsmanship I had ever seen, and their kids copied that behavior. I grew up playing for many coaches like these — not all of them, but many of them. I always told myself that, if I ever took up the coaching mantle, I would never do it that way. No, I would be known as a coach with patience.
Now, consider adversity. This year, we had a mid-season game on a cool Tuesday night in Henderson, Nevada. I put a kid on the mound who wanted to pitch but did not have much experience. Long story short, he had a bad inning. He walked most of their lineup and they batted through the order before we could switch sides.
At one point, the pitcher asked me to take him out of the game. He did not want his team to suffer because of him. I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Not every day in your life is going to be your best day. You will face moments like this and how you respond is what you will become known for. This moment is about more than a game. It is about standing toe to toe with adversity, even if you don’t have the strength to do it.” I added: “I want you to finish this inning because someday you will remember this moment and know that you are capable of facing adversity head on.”
As the boys came to the huddle, I looked around at each of them. “Are you guys waiting for me to yell and scream at you?” Several looked at each other with worried eyes. Others nodded. I continued. “Yelling at you serves no purpose. It will not help you. It cannot erase what just happened, which is your greatest fear — the worst thing you can imagine in the game just happened, and now we shake it off and we enjoy the game.”
In that moment, it occurred to me that a weight had been lifted from those boys. They went to the plate and returned the favor to the other team. They batted around the order. Afterward, the pitcher came to me and asked if he could go back out for another inning. I smiled and said, “Absolutely!”
Patience and adversity, two words that share a unique relationship with one another. Often the only way to succeed in the face of adversity is to exhibit patience. How many sports legends prove this to us every day? My personal favorite story of cool patience in the face of adversity involves Joe Montana in Super Bowl XXIII. He famously broke the tension in the huddle (on the 49ers’ own 8 yard line) by saying to the team, “Look, isn’t that John Candy?” Sure enough, the late actor was in the stands. It lightened the mood enough that his team, down by three points in the fourth quarter, burst through the defense for a 92-yard drive to win.
Overcoming adversity often involves that same patience, whether at a sporting event or in the middle of a warzone, on the back of a drilling rig or making a tough pick as a crane operator. When you and your crew encounter adverse conditions in the field, are you the leader who barks orders and tosses people out of your way to do it yourself? Or are you Joe Cool, spotting John Candy in the crowd before you march down the field to achieve your objective?
To make it to the championship game, my team had to beat the best team in the division — a team they had come up short against all season. My team marched onto the field and beat them 15-1. No one can outrun adversity, but the best leaders find a way to slow the situation down and patiently walk the path to victory.
Perhaps as you pass the holiday eggnog this season, you might reflect on these common words and where they fit in your leadership toolbox. Here’s to a happy and healthy holiday season. I hope you celebrate with a thankful heart, and I look forward to continuing to gather around the Leadership Toolbox in 2022! Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you each month of the year. We are fortunate to live in such a place where we can examine any topic we are interested in and to learn and grow from one another.