4 Business Lessons from Girls’ Softball

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I am (usually) the first to admit when I am wrong…

…and I had one of those moments very recently.

Stick with me here while I set this up.

This last weekend, my 11 year-old niece played in one of the USSSA girls’ fast-pitch softball World Series tournaments.  My family and I packed up and drove to the tournament to cheer her on.   And while I am always happy to see my niece play and spend time with the family, I must admit – in the interest of full transparency – I wasn’t that excited about watching young girls play softball ALL SATURDAY LONG.  It’s not that I’m down on girls’ softball – it’s just that I couldn’t see myself spending ALL DAY there.

Fortunately for me – my ignorance didn’t get in the way of me witnessing something truly great!

Let me lay this out for you quickly and simply.

My niece’s team played a total of thirteen 90+ minute games in this tournament, six of which were on Saturday alone.  In this double-elimination set up, they found themselves fighting through the loser’s bracket after an early loss.  The 12-girl team also found themselves down one pitcher due to injury.  Consequently, they played the entire tournament with only two pitchers,  one of whom was my niece, Destiny.

NOW at this point in the story – let me tell you that if you’ve ever thought that young girls’ sports aren’t exciting – take it from me.  You’re wrong.  I was.  And I’m not too big to admit it. To say that this experience was humbling would be an understatement.

First, it completely terrifies me how fast an 11-year-old girl can pitch a softball – underhand.

Second, these girls that are 4-foot-nothing can HIT! …and field!  (For those of you unfamiliar with softball/baseball terms I simply said “they can play!”)

I was in complete awe of the skill at this age.  The most shocking thing, however, was that they just kept going and going – pitch after pitch – play after play – game after game.  Most adults I know would have wimped out long before these girls did.

The six back to back Saturday games spanned 14 hours in temperatures that had a heat index of around 100⁰F.

I found myself cheering on each individual player much like I would my favorite professional or collegiate athletes.  Listening to their parents – I was drawn in to their personal stories, which made it more fun.  It was like watching (a very long) awesome lifetime movie unfold before my eyes.

Throughout the tournament, these girls scored a total of 123 runs while only allowing 33.  Wow!

Their hard work paid off! In the end, they found themselves in the championship game.  The only trouble was that they were going to have to beat the other team twice in a row to clinch the championship title (because of the double elimination rule), but the other team would only have to beat them once.

As they went head to head, Destiny’s team blew the other team away in the first game.  They carried that momentum into game two – and were up 6-0 at the end of the third inning.  Unfortunately, the girls were worn out (as you had to play more games in the losers’ bracket) and the other team made a late rally in the final innings to beat them.

They left the tournament in second place as far as the USSSA was concerned.  But in my heart and the hearts of the parents and family – they are champions!

Proud Uncle Side Note:  My niece won the MVP Pitching award for best tournament pitcher.  I’m so proud! 🙂

So what does this have to do with business?

Tons.  Here are FOUR KEY LESSONS I walked away with.

ONE:  Cheer on your teammates…even when they make mistakes.  While I witnessed several great plays throughout the game, I also observed a host of errors too.  Nobody’s perfect. But whether success or failure – the girls were the first to genuinely cheer each other on – time and time again.  They clearly had each other’s backs and continually lifted each other’s spirits.

 Business Application:  How do you encourage your teammates?  In the workplace, our teammates need us to genuinely cheer them on.  Lift them up.  Encourage their efforts.  Share in their successes.  And help them get past their failures quickly.  They need us to have their back – and vice versa.

TWO:  Don’t judge a book by its cover.  The second base player that they affectionately referred to as ‘Tic-Tac’ was of course the shortest and youngest on the team.  The first time I saw her step up to bat I thought, “oh boy – this isn’t going to be good” and even looked away.  And then I heard that solid ‘crack’!  You know – the sound when the bat connects perfectly with the ball.  I whipped my head around to see the ball flying into deep right field.  I was in shock.  As I watched Tic-Tac for the rest of the series – I discovered that she was a softball monster!  She was a regular deep hitter, fielded the ball superbly, and caught several fly balls on the run.  I certainly misjudged her.

Business Application:  How do you learn about others?  We judge people we don’t really know all of the time.  Sometimes it’s by brief first impressions, other’s opinions, or just general assumptions we make about them.  However, I challenge you not to succumb to an uninformed opinion.  Get to know people for who they are, the true capabilities they possess, and the experiences and knowledge they can share.  Who knows – you may have a power player on your hands and you don’t even know it.

THREE:  There’s no crying in softball!  Oh wait – yes there is!  I saw it. BUT – through tears of frustration, exhaustion, and sometimes pain, I watched these 10-11 year old girls fight on.  It was inspiring! In the very last game – after pitching all day – my niece stood on the pitchers’ mound in the final innings.  She was brought in to relieve her worn-out partner.  And as tears streamed down her face from being exhausted herself, she kept throwing pitch after pitch.  Talk about digging deep!  It was a testament to sheer determination of will that all of these girls continued on.

Business Application:  How strong is your resolve? Perseverance is critical to accomplishing any great task, especially when you’re up against tough odds.  When it gets tough, double down on your resolve.  It is these moments that define individuals and teams.

FOUR:  Always be a good sport.  One of the things I was most impressed with was that the girls exhibited what I would call stellar sportsmanship.  Every time someone was hurt (on either team) the girls took a knee immediately out of respect.  At the end of every game – win or lose – the girls would meet the other team at the pitcher’s mound join hands and pray together.  They always congratulated the other team.  And in the final championship game – they showed their grace as they cheered the other team on as they received their first place award.

Business Application:  How do you demonstrate business sportsmanship?   One of my favorite life lessons You can’t always control what happens to you (even when you try your best), but you can control your own reaction to it.  Business sportsmanship is displayed through our attitudes, integrity, and ethical/moral behavior.  Always choose the higher road – regardless of what happens to you.

Sports always provides great parallels for business.  There were actually several more lessons from this day that would be business applicable.  But beyond the four I shared above, I want to call out my own very personal learning with which I started the story – don’t knock it until you try it.  I was clearly wrong about girls’ softball.  It is pretty awesome!

The thing that caught my attention through all of this and that should catch yours is that these lessons came from the behaviors displayed by a group of strong and determined young ladies.  They certainly set the bar high for us adults.  And if they can do it, we can do it!

What business lessons have you learned from kids’ activities?

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4 Steps to Doing the Right Thing

Do you do the right thing?

I want to revisit where we were last time – talking about Integrity.  This is a timeless topic, but in recent days is timelier than ever before.

Before we get to far away from it, I also want to revisit the example we were using previously in talking about the University of Arkansas Head Football Coach situation.  While I don’t want to draw too much attention to this situation I do want to take a different look at it – this time through the lens of the actions and decisions of the Athletic Director Jeff Long.

While the coach’s actions brought about a very public ethical dilemma, Long’s response/reaction mitigated a lot of the negative that the coach had created and may have created an even greater positive focus on the integrity of the program that will have long lasting positive effects. 

He showed that the university valued ethical behavior over a winning coach, which is a lesson in and of itself not only the players, students, coaches, faculty, and fans, but for us as well.

How often do we focus on the results over how we achieved the results?  This plays out in business all the time.  Our job as leaders with integrity is to ensure our people understand the importance of the ‘how’.

Most interestingly for me was the ‘how’ in the way that Jeff Long tackled this ethical dilemma.  I’ve categorized these in to four distinct areas of action that were taken.

  • Acknowledge.  Houston, we have a problem.  Have you ever tried to avoid a negative situation because you know that it’s going to be painful and energy consuming?  I have.  But when it comes to ethical dilemmas we really can’t just sit on the fence and wait for things to blow over.  We need to deal with it.

When confronted initially with the situation, the first thing that Long did was acknowledge it.  While this was a very public situation for the university, he didn’t try to hide it. Instead, he stood in front of reporters and told them what he knew.  More importantly, he also said that he didn’t know everything and didn’t succumb to the requests to speculate. 

  • Set Expectations.  Okay…so we know have a problem.  Now what?  You need to define what needs to happen next.  And whether that is simply for your own benefit to organize or to publicly let others know what your plan of action is, definition is important because it gives you structure for dealing with the situation.  Jeff Long did this very well. Once he acknowledged the situation, he said, “Here is what I’m going to do next.”  He didn’t paint himself in to a corner either by setting artificial timelines.  He simply said, “Here is what we are going to do.”  And more important than setting the expectation for himself and the public, he followed through on what he said, which improved his credibility significantly.
  • Consult.  Do I need to shoulder all of this responsibility myself?  Absolutely not.  While I don’t possess a PhD in human psychology, I have a hard time believing that humans are built to handle tough decisions alone.  We have a safety net of people that make up our social sphere that help guide us along the way.  This may be your parents, or a sibling, best friend, pastor, boss, career mentor, legal resource, counselor, or other source.  The fact is, gaining other perspectives on tough decisions is a great idea.  I know that I use a network of trusted people in my life to help give me perspective all of the time.

In his statement, Long stated that he sought counsel and perspective from others.  Undoubtedly, there were very different perspectives presented, but in the end, he had to take in all of the information, filter, and then make the best possible decision.  The same is true for all of us.

  • Decide and Act.   Making tough decisions isn’t easy.  Acting upon them is sometimes even harder.  As I looked at these two actions, I thought about splitting them out in to their own points.  But as I looked closer, I believe that you can’t separate them because they are absolutely interconnected. 

As a leader, you can’t decide and then not act. If you don’t act then you really didn’t do anything, now did you?  Leaders make and act on tough decisions.  Don’t forget that.  If you can’t, then being in a leadership position may not be for you.

At the end of the day, Long made a very tough decision.  He made the right decision (in my opinion).  But he didn’t stop at the decision.  He followed through with action.  He terminated the coach, he started a search for a new coach, and then hired a new coach.

One other side note and observation that I wanted to cover is the compassion that Long exhibited in the handling of the situation.  Not only was he sensitive to all that were impacted in the words that he used and privacy he maintained,  but his tone, demeanor, and delivery conveyed that he really cared about all of those involved (including the coach).  Following the above steps in a sterile manner may get you through the situation, but what people will remember is your sincerity and how you made them feel about it.

Every ethical decision that you come to in life may not be hyper-complex.  Some may be much more black and white and easy to quickly determine.  However, I’m confident that you will experience at least one or more difficult, complex, ‘gray’ decisions to make in your life.

Having a framework to approach and deal with these situations will be very important to your success.  Just remember to be sincere and compassionate as you face these challenges.

As leaders, we all have tough decisions to make.  Many may not be as public or complex as the one that Jeff Long faced, but tough decisions nonetheless.  While none of us are perfect, having the right tools in our toolbox will help us when those tough decisions come along.

My questions for you are:

  • Will you step up when it’s your time? 
  • Will you make the right decision when no one else is looking? 
  • Will you act with integrity? 
  • Will you teach integrity to those that look up to you?

Leading and Living with Integrity

Fortunately or unfortunately, it’s good to take advantage of current events to drive home a point. A great colleague of mine, Matt Martin, sent the below email out yesterday morning touching on the recent negative press around Arkansas Razorback’s Head Football Coach Bobby Petrino and used it as a learning opportunity. How bad was the press? I’ll put it this way. It was bad enough that it was trending nationally near the top of the list Thursday night on Twitter.

Integrity is foundational and critical to every leader’s success! Matt’s reminder about acting with integrity is not only appropriate today, but appropriate every day. Matt also forwarded a great piece by Michael Camp on Leading and Living with Integrity. Please see both below.

While Camp talks through a couple definitions of integrity below, one of my new favorites comes from Jeff Neria on my team. She says, “Integrity is the moral courage to make your actions consistent with your knowledge of right and wrong.

Above all as leaders it is important not only to act with integrity, but to teach the importance of integrity to others. Don Soderquist, one of the great former Wal-Mart leaders has said repeatedly, “Mentor your leaders; assume they know nothing about professionalism or integrity. Teach them before they fall and impact others.

Are you living and leading with Integrity? Do you teach the importance of integrity to others?

Matt’s note is below.  You can also follow him on Twitter @samsclubmatt.  Michael Camp’s piece on integrity is below that.

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Team,

With the news around Bobby Petrino surfacing last night, I was reminded of the importance of integrity in leadership. I was also reminded of how quickly trust and credibility can crumble with one lapse of judgment. I was specifically reminded of a document that recently came across my email written from a peer on the Walmart side.

In the attachment (printed below) he talks about how we must protect and guard our integrity and compares it to an eggshell saying “Once an eggshell has even a slight crack, the structure can no longer be depended on to handle the pressure of the environment. It is simply a matter of time before the egg is completely compromised”.

Take a minute to read it and feel free to share with others. Our associates deserve to have leadership they can trust and respect every day and the attachment is a good reminder for us all.

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LEADING AND LIVING WITH INTERITY

By Michael Camp

Someone can easily say they are ‘leading with integrity,’ but the challenge lies in actually following through. I believe the majority of us have been told the importance of being honest since we were children. Unfortunately, some people struggle more than others to live with integrity, no matter how many times they hear it.

What does the word integrity actually mean? Most of us could easily define the word integrity and have a pretty good idea of what that really looks like; or could we?

Integrity is not a characteristic you can demonstrate sometimes, or even 99% of the time. Leading with integrity means demonstrating it ALWAYS! Integrity can be defined most simply as “being honest” or “following moral and ethical principles.” Integrity has also been defined as being when “a person’s behavior is the same whether someone is watching them or not.”

I like to consider integrity to be like an eggshell that must be protected at all times in order to keep the egg (or your integrity) whole. Once an eggshell has even a slight crack, the structure can no longer be depended on to handle the pressure of the environment. It is simply a matter of time before the egg is completely compromised. A leader’s integrity (or eggshell) is the exact same thing. A leader can do the right thing 100 times, but on the 101st time, they choose to deviate from their behavior; therefore, their integrity comes under scrutiny from those around them. Even though we may live a life of integrity during the first 100 situations, if we choose to act incorrectly the 101st time, the way people perceive us can change forever.

If we want people to follow us there MUST be a strong level of trust. Keeping your word and living with integrity are two critical pieces to this process. Trust is not something built overnight; however, it can be lost instantly. The easiest way to come across as not being honest is when we say something but do something completely different. When people choose to follow us, they need to know the words coming out of our mouths are genuine and that we will not deviate from what we said we would do. Some people believe if they always handle the big issues with integrity, the little issues don’t always need to be handled the same way, especially if no one will know. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. A person who leads with integrity will ALWAYS keep their integrity untarnished and will not waiver, regardless of the size of the issue at hand or whether or not people will ever know what they did.

There is nothing worse than listening to someone speak about what they plan to do when we know their actions will not match what they said. This type of dishonest behavior is what usually creates the first crack in what I call the “TRUST FOUNDATION” that the leader – follower relationship is based on.

As a leader today, the challenge is for us to live the true lifestyle of a leader with integrity at work and outside of work. When people see us acting differently in public than we act in the workplace, our genuineness becomes questionable, as does our integrity. Show the people who choose to follow you what kind of leader you are by keeping your word and living with integrity ALWAYS.

I would ask you to take the LEADING AND LIVING WITH INTEGRITY pledge with me……

“This year I will commit to doing whatever it takes to:

Become a leader trusted by my co-workers, my family, my community,

Demonstrate outstanding servant leadership,

As I LEAD and LIVE WITH INTEGRITY to build trust with those whose lives I influence.”

“As Wal-Mart leaders we MUST live in a manner so that when our Associates think of honesty and integrity, they think of us.” – Michael Camp

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