Falling short comes with the territory of high expectations. The higher the expectations, the longer the fall to reality. Falls to reality hurt, are sudden, generally are unexpected, and create future fears of repeating them.
As a life-long Georgian, I am a die-hard Atlanta Braves fan. I grew up in a generation that watched Greg Maddox, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Chipper Jones. I remember the days prior to their arrival where the franchise was not competitive, expectations were extremely low. Then, in 1991 that changed when the Braves went from worst to first.
From that point forward, they would go on to win fourteen straight division titles and appear in five World Series. As good as those times were, expectations went from being really low to really high quickly.
From 2006 to 2017, they only won one division title, started falling short, and expectations lowered.
Then in 2018, the next generation of Braves arrived. Max Fried, Ronald Acuna, Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Austin Riley emerged. Yes, I intentionally left out Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson (still some hurt feelings there), but they were big contributors). Expectations catapulted in 2021 when they won the World Series. The bar of expectations was set as high as it could go, basically all they could do was win or fall short. There was no in between.
This season the Braves’ expectations were high from the start. As the season progressed, the expectation bar only got higher. They won the most games in baseball and set many team and individual records.
On Thursday of this past week, their palms started to sweat, their grip on the high bar got weak, and they plummeted to reality. The team didn’t make it out of the second round. They fell short. Season over. As a loyal fan, I was disappointed to say the least. I would imagine the entire organization was more disappointed.
So how do we deal with falling short? Here are three easy steps that work for a Major League Baseball Team (MLB) and everyday leaders:
Step 1: Deal with Reality
Several fans were quick to blame the MLB leadership for what happened. In the newer playoff system, more teams make the playoffs. For non-baseball fans, this basically means that teams now make the playoffs who didn’t perform as well during the regular season. In fact, this year, teams with the best records were all eliminated in the same round as the Braves.
Here is the deal, fans can complain about the system all they want, but whining about the system doesn’t deal with reality. The reality is that the system is the system. It is the system in which everyone knew the rules headed into the season. The Braves just needed to beat the Philadelphia Phillies to advance, and they didn’t.
A good first step when you fall short in leadership is to come to grips with it, deal with reality. Humble leaders quickly grasp reality and recognize that they are falling short. That level of awareness within a leader helps cushion the fall and starts the healing process sooner.
The first step in dealing with falling short is to deal with reality.
Step 2: Diagnose the Cause
You Can Count on Critics to diagnose the cause first. If it wasn’t the playoff structure, in the Hater’s mind it was that the front office didn’t make any big moves at the trade deadline, the star players choked under the pressure, you name it. The off season will continue to provide opportunities to thoroughly diagnose what went wrong.
If the Braves deal with reality first, it allows them to move on to the diagnostic phase. They can then find the root cause of the fall. Once they establish it, they can start the surgery. Ultimately, they may find that the core reason was that our pitching was depleted with injuries, the reasons our lineup went ice cold, or maybe it was just as simple as Phillies got red hot at the right time. Time will tell the story, if we allow it.
More often than not, leaders try to diagnose the cause before we deal with reality. We can get these steps out of order. It is in our nature as humans to point fingers first, rather than deal with reality. There is a time and a place to diagnose the cause, but not as you are in the process of falling short.
After dealing with the reality of falling short, diagnose the cause.
Step 3: Find Perspective
After the Braves have dealt with reality and diagnosing the cause of falling short, they need to find perspective. Perspective will start the healing process for bumps and bruises the team attained in the fall. But, at some point they will need to find perspective.
Here is some perspective they will likely find if they look close enough. One, due to the pitching injuries, a lot of younger guys got major league experience that normally wouldn’t have. This is good for the future.
Two, there was some major accomplishments. They tied the all-time record for most homeruns as a team, should have the National League’s MVP, may have a Cy Young Award Winner, Ronald Acuna was the first player in MLB history to hit forty homeruns and steal seventy bases, six players hit more than thirty home runs, the team won more than one hundred games, and broke fan attendance records at Truist Park. There were thirty MLB teams, 18 didn’t make the playoffs. Four teams were also eliminated in the round before the Braves. There is some perspective!
In leadership, when we seek perspective, we will find some good in the process of falling short. Perspective is always a little clearer when time passes and the fog lifts.
Deal with reality, diagnose the cause, then find perspective.
Leadership can be tough. My friend Brian Dodd wrote something pretty profound in his blog (ironically about the Braves as well) this past week that struck me. He said, “Many people want the perks of leadership but few are willing to pay the price required to lead.” The cost of leadership is sometimes paid with falling short.
Just like a professional baseball team, we as leaders can fall short. I do, you do, we all do. While falling short feels like losing, I have learned way more in seasons that I fell short than I ever did in seasons I was perfectly executing.
Confession time…I HATE losing! It stings, hurts, lingers, discourages, disappoints, deflates, and it is just plain no bueno. You get the point! Winning for me…is way better than losing! But…after looking back at times where I have fallen short, performing a diagnostic of those falls reveals a perspective that is much clearer today than in the fog of failure.