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Inspiring a Generation of Community Leaders to Make the Turn from Ordinary to Extraordinary

What Champions Are Made Of

Ever wanted to know what champions are made of?  Look no further than the 2021 Atlanta Braves who just won the Major League Baseball World Series.  If you are a fan of one of the twenty-nine other teams who did not win it, just bear with me.  There are plenty of lessons packed into the Braves championship run that will benefit you in your season of leadership.

Being a Georgia native, I have been a Braves fan all my life.  I watched them go from worst to first in 1991, win 14 consecutive division titles, come up short in four World Series (1991,1992,1996,1999), and win our last World Series in 1995.  It has been twenty-two years since we played in one and twenty-six years since we won one.  We were due!

what champions are made of
Shannon and Ashtyn at the celebration ceremony.

This season was not your typical path to a championship.  The Braves were able to show what champions are made of.  Here are seven leadership lessons we can all take away from their title run: 

Storms Will Come

The organization had every reason to give up according to this chain of events:

  1. July 10Ronald Acuna, Jr. tore his ACL. Acuna was an MVP candidate and could be considered the best player in the game. Lost for the season.
  2. May 26 – Marcell Ozuna, a key re-signing in the offseason, broke his fingers and was put on the 60 day injured reserved list. While recovering, he was placed on administrative leave by the MLB for family violence charges that were pending. Lost for the season.
  3. June 24 – Little known by those outside of Braves fans, but would have likely been the ace of the staff this year, Mike Soroka, reinjured his Achilles that was surgically repaired. Lost for the season.
  4. August 5 – After 110 of 162 games, they still were not above the .500 mark.

Once thing is certain in leadership, storms will come. Note that I said WILL. Not MAY come, COULD come, or POSSIBLY come. It is the reality of leadership. 

Every Storm Runs Out of Rain

There is a saying in Georgia that, “if you do not like the weather here, just wait until tomorrow, it will change.” Country music artist Gary Allan has a song called Every Storm. He sings, “every storm runs out of rain.” It may not feel like it sometimes, but they do run out of rain. The Braves storm ran out of rain on August 6, with 51 games left. They finally eclipsed the .500 mark.

Whatever you are walking through in leadership or life, the storm you’re experiencing will run out of rain. It is hard to see when there is a literal storm. The heavy rain decreases visibility. In the figurative sense, it is hard to see the other side of the storm facing you in leadership and life. Like the Braves, all you can do is just keep playing the game and wait out the storm.

Give Your Team the Resources They Need

I am quite certain that if you told any of the players, coaches, or fans on August 5 that they would be World Series Champions on November 2, they would want to believe you, but probably couldn’t honestly say they saw it happening. Here was the game changer. At the trade deadline, teams in the Braves’ situation have to make the tough decision to sell or go all in. Alex Anthopoulos, the General Manager, made the decision to go all in. He didn’t sell the farm, but he didn’t make any big splashes like some teams. He traded for four outfielders and a relief pitcher to give his team the resources they needed.

The allocation of resources can be one of the toughest decisions a leader faces. You have competing needs throughout the organization.  Those needs require resources.  This can place a heavy burden on the leader.  Even if you cannot meet every need, the effort you place towards trying to will be noticed by your people. That is worth the effort alone.

There is a lot of buzz about the Braves need to re-sign the face of the franchise, Freddie Freeman, who is headed into free agency. I distinctly remember a press conference shortly after the trade deadline where Freeman thanked Anthopoulos for not giving up on the season. I strongly believe that championship or not, Athhopoulos’ effort to give his team the resources they needed will be the signature moment in re-signing Freeman.

Take A Chance on People

I had a less than inspiring person tell me one once that, “people will always disappoint you.” I probably believed that lie for way too long. Experience has taught me that people will disappoint you, but not always. Great leaders take chances on people.

In the case of the Braves, Anthopoulos took a chance on four outfielders to fill the gaps. All four were essentially in the last year of their contracts and their former teams felt they were expendable. You could probably say they were disappointed in them not reaching their full potential. Well…one decided to wear pearls and spark some spunk, one ended up leading the league in RBI’s, one became the League Championship MVP, one became the World Series MVP. Four good reasons to take chances on people!

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

In a recent Sports Illustrated Article, Manager Brian Snitker said, “When you wait your whole life for something you don’t get to choose how or when it happens.” Snitker has served the Braves organization faithfully for forty-five years. It wasn’t all pretty either. He reached the majors in several capacities during the journey, only to be demoted several times. It would been easy for him to be sour and take his ball and go home, but he didn’t. He waited.

In a world seeking instant gratification, leaders like Snitker are rare. There is so much we can learn while waiting if we have the right perspective. The forty years he spent not being a head coach in the majors prepared him to lead the Braves in this moment.

Do Not Overcorrect

One of the first things you are taught in driving is when you veer off the road, do not over correct.  It is a natural reaction to jerk the steering wheel to get back on the road.  That can have catastrophic results.  You just need to stay steady and ease it back on the road. 

There are so many examples of Snitker’s willingness to ride the ruts out with players until they get back on the road.  A.J. Minter was sent down to the Minors, Tyler Matzek and Will Smith had periods of struggle, Luke Jackson gave up a pivotal home run against the Dodgers in the playoffs, and he was patient with the development of Austin Riley who should be in contention for MVP this year.  He didn’t yank the steering wheel with any of these situations.  He kept putting them out there and his steadiness just guided them back on the road.

Advocate For Others

My family and I were able to attend the championship ceremony at Truist Park.  The event was the final stage of the celebration parade.  At the event, several players made comments. When Dansby Swanson came to the mic, his comments were limited, but impactful.  He used one of his two comments to advocate for his teammate, Freddie Freeman. 

The re-signing of Freeman has been a big concern for Braves fans.  In his comments, Dansby said, “I am going to get in trouble for this…but bring back Freddie.”  The crowd went nuts!  It was unconventional and probably went against the grain of how the manual tells you to handle the situation, but it was effective.  Sometimes we have to advocate for our teammates. 

What Champions Are Made of Conclusion

To be honest, I had to stop here.  Frankly, there is so much more to learn from this magical season.  I could have talked about how much fun these guys had playing America’s past time, the role the bench players played in generating energy for the team, Tyler’ Matzek’s journey, or Ron Washington’s relationship with the best infield in baseball.  Believe me, I could go on and on. 

If you ask me what champions are made of, I would tell you to spend some time reading about this team.  They were not supposed to be where they ended up, but their grit and determination got them where they needed to be.

We may not be in the Major Leagues, but what you do is important.  If you are a leader and have influence, you have the awesome obligation to lead your people well.  If you are a member of a team, you play an integral role in your team’s success.  The Braves’ story is a great recipe for what it takes to be a champion in leadership and life.    

Ordinary to Extraordinary Intersection

How can you apply these lessons to your leadership world?  Are you striving to be a champion in leadership and life?   

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