Playing the long game is a good leadership strategy. My entire adult life has been spent coaching youth sports. Over those twenty-two years, I have learned that it’s not about winning early, it’s about winning later.
I coach my son Grant’s 12U recreation baseball team. We just wrapped up our spring baseball season this past Saturday by winning the Acworth Baseball League Championship. We made an impressive run in the end of season tournament outscoring our opponents 46 to 11. Here is the deal though, the winning didn’t start Saturday, it started four months ago. The coaches and myself put measures in place early, to make sure we were in position to win later.
In this week’s post, we look at five ways we can play the long game in leadership:
Pick the Right Players
A key component to playing the long game is to start with picking the right players. A twelve-year-old recreation baseball draft can be ultra-stressful. With each pick the pressure builds, the rounds move faster and faster, everything is on the line. Just kidding…sort of.
I spent nearly six hours watching kids hit, run, field, and pitch during the skill assessment that preceded the draft. I looked for three things: potential, attitude, and parents. I would much rather draft a kid that has potential than a kid that has peaked. Potential must come with a key component, the willingness to get better, i.e. attitude. Then once I establish those two things, I watch the behaviors of parents. Drafting good parents is key!
In leadership, the ability to pick the right people is the foundation of every effort to play the long game. If you assemble a team that has maxed out their potential and possesses a poor attitude, there is neither the ability nor the willingness to grow. Team formation is the ultimate responsibility of the leader, understand the gravity of it. People are your Sustainable, Competitive Advantage.
Develop The Fundamentals
Learn how to catch and throw. Before we do anything, we must be able to catch and throw. It’s baseball at its purest. If you attended any practice prior to our first game you will watch the same routine, over and over. We play catch, do station work, field groundballs, catch pop flies, run the bases, and work on our pitching form. We do not skip steps in the development process.
Each year, it never fails. A text goes out to the Coach group right after the teams are drafted, “anyone want to scrimmage Saturday?” These guys are trying to win the short game. They are skipping those critical steps in the development process that WILL cost them later. They want to get good at playing games, not playing the game.
Too often we feel the pressure to rush the development of our people. We want to get them further, faster. The fundamentals of leadership should be developed by repeating the process over and over, until it becomes second nature. Those we are responsible for developing will have a greater chance of success if we equip them with the Fundamentals of Leadership.
Pitch counts are and should be a big thing in youth baseball. Early in the season, a lot of coaches start throwing their kids the maximum allowable pitches per game. Not us. We started allowing our kids to pitch up to thirty pitches the first few weeks and we held to that. As the weeks progressed, we moved to forty, then to fifty, and so on. It allowed us to pitch more kids as well as prepare the team for the end of season tournament further down the road. The coaches that chose to go the other route ended up with one or two kids that could pitch, we ended up with six.
Leadership requires discipline. Discipline helps us stay the course. It creates consistency towards a path of achievement. Our leadership endurance is built over time and can’t be rushed. If rushed, we will restrict our growth and burn out early.
Persistent in the Pursuit of Excellence
Early in the season, I am constantly issuing reminders. Each and every moment I can coach a kid by reinforcing what we have taught prior, I do it, relentlessly. I sound like a broken record to them, but when they execute later because of it, it is extremely rewarding as a coach.
In his book, the Motive, Patrick Lencioni says that we should be the CRO, the Chief Reminding Officer for our organizations. I have heard Andy Stanley say that you must say something nineteen times before a message sinks in. Basically, when you see eyes roll, the message has been received.
Too often as leaders we are hesitant to issue reminders. We do not want to be that person who constantly says the same thing over and over. The reality is, we probably haven’t communicated the message enough. We may think we have, because we have had the conversation with the person in our head ten times, but in person only once. Be a CRO, communicate until you see eyes roll. Then you know the message has been delivered.
Make the Bottom Half Better
Here is the common factor of the teams that faltered towards the end of the season. The kids at the bottom of the order did not get any better. Granted, everyone on the team’s “get better” is different. Most of the kids who hit at the bottom of the order on these teams, stood at the plate and looked for walks. Earning a walk was their only chance of contributing.
Our coaching staff invested in the bottom half and it paid off. We spent extra time with those kids and simplified expectations for them. We weren’t teaching them to hit home runs, we were teaching them to make progress. They went from watching strike threes, to striking out swinging (may not sound like progress, but it is), laying down bunts, and making contact.
It is easy to get focused on our upper-level leaders and their development. Our organizations get better when the bottom half gets better. Training, developing, and providing these team members with the resources necessary to complete the job is important. It is important for both them and their leader’s success.
Staying in the game of baseball, Shannon and I have chosen to play another long game. From the ages of five to nine, Grant would play a recreation regular season followed by an All-Star season.
Each season I would coach both our A and B All Star teams in that age group. After the age of 9, 23 of the 24 kids that I coached went to travel baseball. We strongly believed that Grant could benefit from the recreation experience and decided not to go that route.
Grant enjoyed baseball, but I knew there would be an age that it would click for him. A day when HE enjoyed the game enough that HE wanted to get better. Nothing against travel baseball or parents that chose to go that route, but for my son playing the long game involved staying recreational. I am grateful we chose this route, because he just had one of his most enjoyable and productive seasons yet as he closes in on high school. The lightbulb is going on.
If Shannon and I would had gone with the flow, we could have burned him out, stunted his growth, and crushed his love of the game. We played the long game.
In leadership, if we fail to pick the right team members, don’t develop the fundamentals, become undisciplined, accept mediocrity, and choose to only develop certain segments of our organization we will not win later. It is when we pick the right players, develop the fundamentals, remain discipline, are persistent in the pursue excellence, and develop our entire team that we will find ourselves winning the long game.
Remember, short-term games will never lead to long-term success. Leadership is a marathon, not a sprint. Run it well.