Quite possibly the greatest baseball team of all time is touring the streets of Boston this morning in duckboats in front of hundreds of thousands of adoring fans. An entire city is in awe after a season-long display of excellence, character, grit, perseverance, teamwork and courage.
How would you like hundreds of thousands of adoring fans celebrating your work and your company?
Would you like to get that promotion you always dreamed about or create the next Amazon, Facebook, Virta or BrightFarms? If you do then take a page from the most dominating team in sports history since…well you asked for it… the New England Patriots. Ok, ok, even if you are not a Boston sports fan, you can take away and learn some valuable lessons from theses winners that will guide you to becoming a leader anyone will follow.
1. Play to win instead of playing not-to-lose
Playing not-to-lose shifts your focus and mindset and puts you back in a defensive posture. It’s surviving instead of thriving.
In Game 3 of the World Series, Alex Cora (the Red Sox 1st time General manager) had a tough decision to make. It was the top of the 12th inning, deep into extra innings and one of his best pitchers during the post-season was scheduled to start game four, and possibly close out the world series if the Sox didn’t lose Game 3. But Cora wasn’t playing not to lose, he wanted to win game 3 as much as game 4 tomorrow and he was living in the present. Eovaldi already came in during Game 1 & 2 out of the bullpen for two scoreless innings. Cora decided to put him in for extra innings in Game 3 knowing full that meant he wouldn’t start Game 4.
Eovaldi went into the record books by throwing 97 pitches including one that clocked 101.1 MPH. He basically pitched a full game before the Red Sox lost a gut-wrenching, and history-making, game in the bottom of the 18th inning, 7 hours and 20 minutes after the start.
Playing to not lose is a fear-based decision (remember there are only two ways to make decisions out of fear or out of opportunity). Loss aversion, or fear of losing what you have, puts an inherent limit on your potential because your focus is not on winning. Cora set records and broke barriers this season because he led as someone who wanted to win. He led the Red Sox to win more games than any other manager in Red Sox history. He won so much that his team always believed they could win.
Nate Eovaldi’s big loss, a failure made more catastrophic because the Sox used their best pitchers and exhausted their star players, could have been seen as a complete disaster and a turning point for the Dodgers.
A great leader would never let that happen.
In the aftermath of Game 3 during the wee hours of the morning Cora wanted to see his troops immediately after the loss. It wasn’t a pump ‘em up, rah-rah motivation session. It was an honor and celebration of the sacrifice that Eovaldi had just made. Cora told his players the 18 inning heart-breaker was the greatest loss in baseball history, because they did damage to the Dodgers. They successfully made the Dodgers work even harder than they did for the win. Eovaldi told Cora he was ready to pitch Game 4 if they needed him. That’s guts.
2. Celebrate the big wins
In many start-ups, it’s hand-to-hand combat to get to the next round, the next milestone, or the next client win. So much so that entrepreneurs often just keep pushing up the hill. Rather than letting the “next thing” become a Sisyphean endeavor, take time to have some fun, look back on what you’ve accomplished and let the neurons of the brain repair and wire those critical connections that created success. A key lesson I share in keynote speeches is that wiring the neurons and synapses together takes recovery time, plus creating corporate lore is a great way to spread a winning culture too. Cora knows this. After winning the American League East in September he said: “We should call time out and enjoy this one. We know what we have to do in October, but to do this at this level, in this division. The Yankees are pretty good. Tampa is probably going to win 90 games. So for us to do it (win the Division) is amazing.”
3. Give credit and take the blame
You might think our society has become more and more self-centric and fear-driven. Sensationalism and tribalism often pit one person against another person even in the same organization. Winning teams never allow this poisonous tree to take root. You shouldn’t either. There’s an easy anecdote – humility.
Cora is the first to give credit, despite journalists asking what makes him so good. “It’s a testament to the whole organization. The coaching staff has done a great job connecting with players,” Cora said. “When I flew to meet with the coaches this winter and explained what I had in mind, I don’t think we expected this . . . We saw it in spring training when we had the best record in spring training and I know people kind of made fun of me for that, but it’s not like I saw 106, but I saw a team that was very competitive and they showed up every day.”
Not only that, Cora puts himself last in any situation where he could help the team or help others. During his contract negotiations, he didn’t talk about money, or cars, or housing. He asked for one thing – that was to send a plane full of supplies to his hometown in Puerto Rico. The Red Sox didn’t hesitate. Cora beams with pride when he says that the supplies, after two devastating hurricanes, changed the lives of 300 families in his hometown. Cora will end this year making $800,000, one of the lowest paid General Managers in baseball despite the Red Sox having the highest salary for players. He never talks about pay because he knows that he proved his worth beyond a doubt, and his future is one thing that will never be in doubt.
4. Don’t get stuck in the same routine
I have worked with dozens of sales organizations and one of the most common phrases I hear is “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” The idea of losing what they have because there is risk in changing a routine is endemic in holding organizations back. This is particularly true in the uber-superstitious world of professional baseball.
Cora didn’t buy in to one way of doing things. “You don’t have to win the same way to be successful. The more you can show that you win a game in different ways — maybe a well-pitched game, or a big offensive outburst, or a close game or an extra-inning game or a game when you have to use a lot of pitchers because your starter didn’t have it that day. We won those games.”
Creativity and courage are the cornerstones of breaking routines. Yes, sometimes you’ll fail and learn from that. Having the courage to try new and different things is what makes champions. Just ask Alex Cora, or Dick Fosberry or Michael Phelps.
5. Crunch the numbers and stroke the egos
Even my mom has heard of Moneyball. I’ve learned a lot from my friend Mark Shapiro (President of the Toronoto Blue Jays) was an early proponent of using analytics to figure out the truth behind performance, but focusing on data alone can be taken too far. After the worst two seasons in team history in 2015 and 2016 Red Sox owner John Henry realized "Baseball is a complex, dynamic, living thing that has to be nurtured on a daily basis, 12 months of the year," Henry told the Boston Globe in February 2016. "I think we were reliant too heavily on analytics." In the future, Henry said, the team's philosophy would be "more holistic and with a broader approach."
Cora took that to an extreme – he demanded more data and analytics during spring training and the regular season because he wanted as much information as possible, but he also had an emotional intelligence (EQ) that could reads his players confidence level, that could give him courage to make big decisions like putting in a pitcher who had never one a post season game in nine starts until this year to pitch the decisive Game 5. He knew the stats were better for other pitchers, but he saw a fire and determination that went beyond statistics. It was one of the most inspired performances in baseball history when David Price won Game 5.
While the New York Yankees were on the golf course and the players from the Dodgers were volunteering to take themselves out of the biggest game in their careers, the Red Sox were diligently doing their jobs. It led to the greatest season of all time. Now they are the ones soaking in the highly deserved accolades, because that’s how life works. Go do your job with courage, use fear as fuel to propel you to new heights and enjoy the accolades when you do!
This article means quite a bit to me, I’d love to hear what it means to you and what leadership lessons you’ve learned from sports – lets rap on twitter!
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