Saturday, August 10, 2013

How to be a Big Guy (On Leadership)

Recently I received the sad news that my friend's father had passed away.  Mr. Tango wasn't just my friend's father.  In all the seasons of baseball I played (through college), he was one of my best baseball coaches (he was my coach when I was in 7th grade for our in-town youth league). I was doing some driving around the hills of northeastern PA the day I heard about it and I began to think what made him a great coach.  What did I learn about coaching from him?

1) He never gave up on us.  

He took an AWFUL team (we only won ONE game of the first 10) and brought us to within one game of the championship.  He did not let us remain the league's doormats, he didn't belittle us for losing, but he kept positive, kept smiling, and kept working to improve us.

2) He trusted us.

One of the reasons we turned our season around is that he allowed us, the kids, to coach the game (lineups, switches, the bases, everything).  Maybe he was trying to figure out a way to keep us interested while we were losing, maybe it was because our assistant was being tossed out of every other game.  But when we became empowered, winning meant more to us than before..and we began to win.  Some of the strategies and ideas that my teammates and I figured out that summer I use in coaching baseball today.

Leaders can take two roads, one is to create & nurture leaders under your charge and the other is to create a hedge around yourself based upon your insecurities that someone underneath you might outshine you.  Choose road one if your focus is build success in others.  Choose road two if it's all about you.

3) He knew each player had their own strengths and weaknesses.

Our assistant coach believed that the way to get out every power hitter was throw high, inside fastballs.  Mr. Tango disagreed.  He pointed at me and said, "It won't work with him".

He knew that there wasn't just one solution to every problem.

So one practice they decided to see who was right.  I stood up at bat and our best pitcher took the mound and was told to throw the balls up and in on me.  He threw the first pitch by me for a strike.  The assistant said it proved his point, but Mr. Tango reminded him that it was only strike one.  I hit the next two deep down the left field line.

(To the pitcher's credit, I did have a HUGE advantage over him. I knew where the pitch was going & what type of pitch was coming.  A middle school kid who can throw three straight pitches in the same location just shows how good he was).

You cannot use a cookie-cutter approach when it comes to leading people under your charge.  You need to figure out their strengths and weaknesses (btw, mine in baseball were curveballs on the outside part of the plate)

4) He communicated both passion and knowledge.

I had coaches who knew more about the game than Mr. Tango.  A coach I had in high school possessed the most knowledge of any coach I ever played for, but was the worst motivator of people. Don't get me wrong, Mr. Tango knew the game, but more importantly, he could convey & instruct what he knew.  And he always did it with a smile.  We knew he had our best intentions at heart.  He made us want to listen.  He made us want to do well.

Some of the smartest people on a subject are awful teachers because they fail to make a connection with their students.

Some of the smartest administrators are awful because they cannot communicate vision and direction to those under their charge.

5) He treated us according to the potential he saw in us.

Mr. Tango's nickname for me was "Big Guy".  Physically, this wasn't the case.  I was average height for my age and VERY thin.  Yet, he always called me the "Big Guy" and I went on to have one of my best seasons in baseball and the confidence I gained helped motivate me to continue to improve my skills.  I played up to the expectation that he saw in me.  I wish more leaders would motivate those under their care positively, based on what they can be, rather than to berate and belittle them so they play just well enough to keep the "coach" of their back.

When I was in college, I stopped by my friend's house and saw my old coach relaxing on a chair in his family room.  He said he wanted to show me something. He walked out of the room and returned with a baseball that the team had signed as a gift at the end of the season.  Great memories flooded my mind when I saw the names on the ball.  He told me to look for my name.  There were two words underneath my name and I said them audibly "Big Guy"?. (I had forgotten I wrote that on the ball.)

He said to me, "Yea, Kev, You were our Big Guy".

6) We were motivated to go out of our way for him.

Signing the baseball was not the idea of our parents (as gifts are many times in the realm of middle school boys).  We WANTED to get him a gift.  I remember a group of us riding our bicycles to a small sports shop in Clark (about 5 miles from our house), to buy the baseball for the team to sign.  It takes someone special to get a group of middle school boys to give up a few hours on a summer's day to go out and buy with their own money buy a baseball to give as a gift.

7) He Cherished the Memories

As I paid my respects to Mrs. Tango the night of the wake, she began talking of the baseball we signed, and how it remained in a case on his dresser all these years.  She said their grandson (my friend's nephew) who himself is a baseball player, asked if he could keep his grandfather's baseball.  I was introduced to the boy's little sister by her mother.  I told her I played baseball with her father and uncle.

Her mother (who I grew up with as well) added it was the team her grandfather coached.  The granddaughter's eyes grew big and she said, "Is YOUR name on the baseball?"

"Yes, my name is on the baseball." I laughed as I said it.  It was as if we were major leaguers who had signed that ball.  By sitting on their grandfather dresser all those years, Mr. Tango's grandkids recognized the high esteem he held for that team.  It was as if we WERE all major leaguers.

Mr. Tango gave me one more lesson in how to be a "Big Guy".

Mr. Tango, it takes a "Big Guy" to teach someone to be a "Big Guy"

And you were a "Big Guy"!

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