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Major League Leadership - One Pitch at a Time!

Over the course of the 2015 season (as well as the 2014 season), New York Mets manager Terry Collins very rarely visited the mound to ‘calm down’ his pitcher or offer advice, generally leaving that job to his pitching coach.  When Collins walks to the mound it is usually for one thing, to take the baseball from his pitcher and send him to the clubhouse.  

Last night however, in the third inning of the important decisive Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series, Collins did something different, he went to the mound to talk to one of his young stars and in that showed himself to be one of the great managers, one of the great leaders, of the 2015 baseball season.

Jacob deGrom, a young pitcher with a bright future, was struggling.  His pitches weren’t quite ‘hitting their spots’, and against a team like the Dodgers and an opponent like Zack Greinke, that was a serious issue!  

So, what does a leader, the manager of a team that has its eyes set on the World Series, do in a situation like this?  He visits his struggling star, and reminds him that he can do it. 

deGrom may have thought he knew what was coming when Collins left the dugout and headed towards his mound, he knew he was struggling, and most likely could not remember a visit from his manager for anything other than a call to the bullpen.  Collins surprised deGrom however, and instead of reaching out his hand for the baseball, he put it on his pitcher and reassured him, inspired him, and showed his confidence in him.

In Lead Me Out to the Ballgame we discuss the importance of knowing your people, in fact it is one of our important Bases of Leadership that we outside of the Game should follow if we want to develop Major League Leadership.  We need to know what our people need to be successful, sometimes even before they do.  In Game 5 of the NLDS manager Terry Collins knew what his young star needed, he needed support, and he needed a reminder that he belongs on the mound and belongs pitching in this game.  deGrom, as many of us often do, may have been too focused on what was to come next, he may have been thinking, consciously or unconsciously, about the gravity of his situation.  Game on the line, win or go home, succeed of fail, championship or naught.  He may have been thinking about the National League Championship Series which awaited, or possibly even the World Series, just as we may think about what awaits us at the end of a big project at work or a milestone at home. What manager Terry Collins knew was that his pitcher needed not to focus on tomorrow, but to focus on today.  deGrom had a batter waiting for a pitch, and that needed to be his primary focus.  Just as we need to concentrate and direct our attention on the present when faced with a stack of projects or a to-do list a mile long, deGrom needed to take it ‘one pitch at a time’.

In life it is easy to look at what we want, the goals we want to achieve, and the excitement that will come when achieving it.  What differentiates the superstar player and the superstar employee is the ability to think about and get excited about tomorrow, but focus on today and focus on what we need in order to get there.  Excitement and nerves can sometimes get the best of us making it difficult to concentrate on the present, and this is why exuding leadership and becoming a Major League Leader, is not an individual feat. To be a good leader we need to rely on our team, a team of leaders.  In deGrom’s situation his leader, his manager was there to keep him grounded, show him confidence, and remind him to take it ‘one pitch at a time’.

Thanks to Collins’ leadership and a hard fought game, series, and season by his team, the Mets now head to face another great challenge in the 2015 NLCS as they face not only a team of great players, but also one of the premier leaders in the game, Chicago Cubs manager, Joe Maddon.


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