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Leadership Lessons from A Little League Team

Leadership lessons can be learned almost anywhere, even while walking on a treadmill, listening to rock-n-roll and watching a little league game on T.V.

Walking on the treadmill at my gym, I was listening to music (yes, rock-n-roll), and ignoring the TV about three feet in front of me. At one point in my walk, I looked up at the T.V. and realized that the baseball game that was on was the Western Regional finals for the Little League World Series being shown on ESPN. The game was between Northern California (Rocklin) and Honolulu, Hawaii. Of course, I couldn’t hear what the announcer was saying, but hey, it’s baseball, who needs to hear the announcers?

Then I started watching, while still walking and listening to my rock-n-roll music and saw two amazing things happen. One that professional sports players can learn from, and the other something every team or organization can learn from.

It was the top of the 5th inning (they only play to 6 innings), and Honolulu was in the field while Nor Cal was batting. A batter came up, I later learned it was Nor Cal’s pitcher for the game and went to bat. The first pitch was a strike, the second was a ball, low and inside. The third pitch went wild and struck the batter, who immediately ran to first base.

The camera cut away to someone in the crowd but returned as the Hawaii pitcher went over to first base and shook hands and gave the batter a hug. Something was said between the two, and the batter replied, both seeming to be over it. Why must I watch 13-14-year-olds playing a game for free, to see appropriate sportsman behavior that I should be seeing from adults playing the same game and getting paid millions of dollars for it.

The second amazing thing, that all teams can learn from had to do with the Hawaii team uniforms. After seeing the display of good sportsmanship, I started to pay a little closer attention to what I was watching and noticed that the entire Honolulu team had the same “name” written on the back of their shirts… At first, I thought it was a Hawaiian colloquialism or saying, and then I realized it said, “WE > ME.” “We are greater than me.” What a concept, a team, working and playing together, with their individual names removed and this in its place?

What does this say about the philosophy and lessons these kids are probably learning from their coaches? “We are greater than me!” As a leadership trainer and coach, frequently doing team-building exercises, I was instantly struck with how many of my client organizations should try to implement the idea that “We” together are greater than “Me” individually. And then I again thought, why must I watch a little league baseball game to see team behavior that I should be seeing in “professional” sports, and in professional organizations such as our government and large corporations?

The idea of removing the “individual identity” for the greater good of the organization or team is one that isn’t new, but why is it so rare? We've been applying this concept in our trainings for several years with the CMF Leadership Consulting definition of leadership; "Methods of influencing behavior of individuals, teams, and the organization, to achieve organizational goals." It was very refreshing to see the Hawaii Little League team applying this idea. By the way, Honolulu won the game and is in the Little League U.S. Finals, it will be interesting to see how they do.

Either way, I think we can learn some lessons from these “kids.” Lessons that we should be learning from "professional" sports! Lesson #1: Maybe, by treating people we oppose with mutual respect and value instead of self-righteousness and entitlement, we will have a better working relationship and not be so divisive. Lesson #2: By considering the team performance (or organizational performance) as greater than the individual performance, then maybe we could move everyone forward instead of just the "star player" or "high performer" and everyone benefits?

I left the gym not much thinner, and sweaty, but inspired and a little wiser. But in the days since, I began thinking, maybe we should watch kids play sports on T.V. more instead of adults in professional sports. Kids haven't invested so much into their own "career," or "self-worth" that they ignore the other players, both on the other team and in their own. If we act more like this "Little League" team and less like "Professional Athletes," then maybe we will all be a little better together?

About the Author: Dr. Chris Fuzie is the author of "Because Why?...Understanding Behavior In Exigencies." and of "S.C.O.R.E. Performance Counseling: Save the Relationship, Change the Behavior," and Owner of CMF Leadership Consulting. Chris is a developer/trainer/consultant for leadership of public, private, profit, and non-profit organizations. Chris holds a Doctorate of Education (Ed.D), M.A. and B.A. in Organizational Leadership, and has graduate certificates in Human Resources and Criminal Justice Education. Chris is honorably retired from the Modesto Police Department after 28 years of public service where he last served as the Assistant Division Commander of Investigations.

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