Leadership Lessons for Opening Day

Sports are life in miniature; there are heroes and villains, dramatic tension, and obstacles to overcome. In an hour or an afternoon, we see a beginning, a middle, and an end—a great American novel measured in innings, halves, rounds, and quarters. It is why we watch sports; it’s why we love the game.

I have always loved baseball: the strategy, the athleticism, the long-standing traditions. I grew up idolizing Hank Aaron and relishing days at the ballpark. Like a lot of other baseball fans, I worried there wouldn’t be a 2022 season to enjoy—a cruel twist after two years of COVID-related cancellations for all sorts of events. But opening day has arrived and with it a new season of slumps and triumphs, streaks and superstitions, and sharing memories with family and friends.

I don’t get out to the ballpark much these days, but I still think America’s pastime has lessons to teach us. It’s not just the endlessly quotable Yogi Berra, who told us you could observe a lot by just watching, and that it ain’t over ‘til it’s over—baseball players are full of wisdom that leaders can use to play ball.
Babe Ruth: “Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.”

It can be tempting to coast on your previous successes. You worked hard, you achieved something, and no one can take that away from you. Congratulations on a job well done! But the world moves forward. To remain relevant as a leader, you must continually make progress—no matter how incremental. As soon as you reach a goal, it’s time to start defining and working toward the next one. That brings us to the next quotation…

Ken Griffey, Jr.: “To succeed in baseball, as in life, you must make adjustments.”

Change is intimidating, unsettling…and inevitable. No matter how well-trod the path to success, no matter how many times you’ve rehearsed the steps, no matter how straightforward a decision may seem, there are countless elements that will change the environment—and with it, your strategy. The COVID-19 pandemic is a clear example, changing the way we worked, learned, shopped, and socialized. Organizations that were slow to adjust lost momentum, but organizations that adjusted quickly—even when so much was still uncertain—positioned themselves not just for survival, but success. And that bring us to our last quotation for opening day…

Jaja Q: “Life is like a baseball game. When you think a fastball is coming, you gotta be ready to hit the curve.”

It’s important to adjust, but it’s not enough; a successful leader must anticipate adjustments as well. Let’s face it—how often do you dust off last year’s strategy and just change the date at the top of the page? But relying on old ways of thinking means you don’t account for the things that change—any anything from a small shift to a seismic swing is possible. Any number of factors can affect your long-term plans, from catastrophic weather to global events, from supply chain issues to personnel changes. By looking ahead—and more importantly, planning ahead—you can be ready for whatever comes your way: fastball, curve, changeup, or slider.