This month’s blog is a bit of a departure from my normal fare… or maybe it isn’t. Read on and judge for yourself.
I love learning, reading, and teaching about leadership. It’s become one of the cornerstones of my business, and over the last 7 years I believe it’s truly become one of the cornerstones of my life. One of the things I’ve learned is that great leadership shows up in many different places, and we need only look for it.
As I sit here writing today, the clock is winding down on the career of one of the truly great leaders I’ve had the privilege of watching for the past 20 years. Derek Jeter’s career has been like few we’ve ever seen in the history of baseball. And, as this season marks his 20th and final season in a New York Yankees uniform, I felt it more than appropriate to highlight some of the leadership lessons we can all learn from “The Captain.”
“Surround yourself with good people. People who are going to be honest with you and look out for your best interests.” – Derek Jeter
Set your goals high. In last month’s blog, I wrote about how we don’t get what we deserve, we get what we expect. I love this story from Derek’s book, “The Life You Imagine,” which sits on my bookshelf along with all of my Jeter memorabilia:
“I was about eight years old as I walked along our thick carpet, past the pictures of my grandparents on the hallway walls and into my parent’s bedroom. I announced that I was going to play for the Yankees.” They were already in their pajamas, but they listened to what their skinny son with the wavy brown hair and green eyes had said.
They listened patiently, “then told me the type of thing I was aching to hear. They told me that I could do anything I wanted in life if I worked hard enough and stayed dedicated to it, which was like offering me season tickets.”
“There may be people who have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do – and I believe that.” – Derek Jeter
Deal with growing pains. Anyone who has followed baseball for the last 20 years is aware on some level of the career exploits of Jeter, and sometimes it seems that he’s always been this ultra-successful, cool-in-the-clutch performer. But that’s not true. In fact, when he was first drafted by the Yankees and sent to play in their minor league system, he was anything but successful.
Jeter tells of his growing pains in adjusting to the professional game as an 18-year old with high expectations. Especially in the early days in the minors, alone, no supportive family around, few fans in the bleachers. In the first week “it had been torturous since I had failed to get a hit my first 14 at bats.”
Whether it’s baseball, business, project management, or life in general, there are many key growing pains that we all must overcome, often overwhelming stuff that never seems to stop testing us. Jeter admits he “could have crumbled and never recovered.”
You dream on, you “attack your weaknesses,” says Jeter. You learn how to be a team player and you “keep your head high. My mother never let me use the word ‘can’t’ when I was growing up.” You may have the potential to be an All-Star, but you have to do all the heavy hitting on the way to making your dream come true.
Find role models. Says Jeter, “I’m not sure the first time I heard the phrase role model, but I know I was watching people, copying people, and learning from people before I even knew what the words meant.” His first role models were his parents, and he says they still are. But he didn’t limit himself to just watching them. “If I saw an attribute in any other person that I admired, I’d adopt it.”
Don’t be afraid to fail. Risk. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Michaelangelo said: “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”
“I’m not perfect; no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. I think you try to learn from those mistakes.” – Derek Jeter
“One of the most disappointing things you can do to yourself is not even try to do something because you’re afraid of failing. Maybe you want to design clothes or run marathons or work in Europe for a year. Don’t shy away from it, because 10 years from now you will be asking yourself if you could have done it. That’s why I work so hard now – because I don’t want to question whether I could have done more with my career when it ends.”
There are so many highlights from this man’s career, but to me one of the most telling is this: in his 20 years of playing professional baseball, he has never been ejected from a game. Class, integrity, grace under pressure, leadership by example.
Certainly there are many qualities that make for a great leader. But to live those qualities out in front of millions of people, in the brightest media spotlight in the world, New York City, and to do so with such integrity and consistency, that is a true leader. And whether you’re a lifelong baseball fan like me, or never watched a game in your life, we can all learn a few things about leadership from the way Derek Jeter has led during his career.
As this season comes to a close, and as one of my baseball heroes comes to the end of his amazing career, I am happy to be able to reflect on the leadership lessons Derek Jeter has instilled and lived out in front of us for the last 20 years. And, if my instincts are correct, I’m sure we’ll still have many more lessons from him in the years to come.
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Kevin Ciccotti, Human Factor Formula
Helping companies create sustainable, effective teams that are committed to the success of their projects, the organization, and the individuals with whom they work