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Lessons from the Diamond

Lessons from the Diamond

Growing up back in the 1970’s and 80’s, I played the about every sport offered at some point and learned a great deal from each one.  Looking back, I think those learnings from the athletic fields and courts were as valuable to me as the classroom education.  I make that comment not to lower the value of that classroom education, but rather to elevate the importance of what can be learned in athletic competition.

While all those sports played had a role in my development, baseball is probably the most representative of real life.  Baseball exemplifies life in so many ways.

In life:

  • We are going to fail at times (strike out) and that can be very disappointing.
  • We are going to find success at times (a base hit) and that can be so good,
  • We are going to make mistakes (errors), but we must learn from it, put it behind us and get ready for the next challenge.
  • We may do some really impressive things (great catch in the field), and we need to celebrate and cherish those experiences.
  • We are going to experience others letting us down (left on base without scoring), but we have to understand, forgive, and/or just move forward.
  • We are sometimes just going to have bad days (give up three homeruns in one inning – Yes, I did that), but there will be better days too.
  • Things aren’t always fair (bad call by umpire), but life must go on.
  • We are going to see others have success at times while we struggle (hitting line drives right at people and no matter how hard we try we can’t get on base), but life goes on.
  • We are going to see others that we are close to struggle (teammate in a slump), and we do all we can to encourage and help them.

Through all those failures, successes, mistakes, letdowns, bad days, great days, unfair situations, and struggles, the key is to just keep playing the game.  In baseball, one team wins, and one team loses based on the results on the scoreboard.  The only “loser” in life is the one that quits competing, quits playing the game, or quits trying.  Failure is not losing.  If we aren’t failing at times, we are likely not challenging ourselves enough! Those that play it safe will never reach their potential.

Whatever season of life you are going through right now, consider what getting back in the game means to you. Sometimes getting back in the game starts with just being a good teammate toward others.  Maybe it’s a big step forward in faith out of your comfort zone.  It could just be battling through a tough time with the support of a few close teammates. 

Just like baseball, life can be hard, unfair, and disappointing.  It can also be fun, impactful, and rewarding.  The key is to just keep playing the game!

Doug Strickel – dougstrickel.com

Leaders Make a Difference

At 57 years old, I recently competed in my first ten mile trail run competition. This race was the typical trail run with steep hills, water hazards, and constant terrain challenges. I had set a few goals at the beginning of the race, and those were to finish in under two hours and never get passed going up a hill. With all that said, my biggest concern during the race was just staying on the right course. While the course was marked, it was my first time on this trail, and it was easy to get off the path.

With those goals in mind, I quickly discovered that I needed to get behind someone that both knew the course and was running the pace I needed to be successful. After a few missed attempts in following different groups, I found the right couple. They had run the course many times and were running at a pace that would ensure we finished well under two hours.

This race represented so many aspects of life and leadership. My first attempt to run with another group led me to a group that knew the course very well, but they were going way too slow to achieve success. My second attempt led me to a small group that was running a solid pace, but they didn’t know the course very well either and got off the path a few times costing us valuable seconds. The third attempt, a few miles into the race, was the right choice and made a huge difference in that competition for me.

A leader that knows where they are going makes such a difference in the lives of other people by showing the path, promoting success driven actions, and encouraging others during tough challenges. On that trail, the couple leading the path couldn’t make the trail any shorter for me. They couldn’t make the hills any less steep nor the terrain any easier to manage. The race was still going to be a really hard challenge. They could; however, ensure that we stayed on the right path at the right pace. It was also great to hear the guy leading us offer encouragement to his wife every few minutes. I soaked up those encouraging words too.

Life and leadership are similar in that we can’t always eliminate the obstacles or make life easier, but we can provide direction, ensure we stay focused on doing the right things, and offer encouragement along the way. Leaders make a difference in the lives of other people every day by doing those basic things. Just like the race, life can be a real challenge at times. We need leaders to help others through those challenging times. While I will be more familiar with that trail on the next race and lead others, we all need to be making a difference today. Leaders have the opportunity to make a difference in the life of someone else every day. How are you going to make that difference today?

Leadership can be tough as well. If I can help you or your team be more effective in leading your people, please let me know. Ultimately, I want to help you be a leader worthy of following! dougstrickel.com

If you are looking for a simple way to invest 15 minutes a week in developing your leadership team, take a look at Leadership Basics for Success on Blurb.com. I wrote this short, 20 lesson book, several years ago to use with supervisor teams. It is geared to developing others in very short weekly time frames using very relevant topics for leaders in all industries.

Leadership Development

If you are interested in developing leaders under your direction, take a look at Leadership Basics for Success. I wrote this book several years ago and used it as the primary means to develop supervisors and managers. It contains 20 short leadership topics to facilitate a development session with your team.

You can find this book on Blurb.com. Just search for the title or Strickel.

Leaders Know When to Make Adjustments

While I completely agree that a key attribute of a good leader is perseverance, I would also say that a leader also needs to know when to make adjustments. As leaders, we need to persevere through challenging times based on those core convictions and purpose that we have predetermined to be our unchanging values that we will never compromise. We maintain these guiding principles regardless of the situation and display whatever toughness is needed to navigate through the challenging times. Leaders with a solid foundation and clearly defined purpose are best equipped to successfully guide their followers in such times.

However, it is equally as important for leaders to know when to make changes in the tactical approach during such times as well. While neither the purpose nor the core convictions change, we may need to make adjustments to our strategy or detail plans to achieve our desired results. The key for any leader is to recognize not only what changes to make, but when to make these changes. One of a leader’s greatest challenges is to make the right adjustment at the right time while not compromising our convictions or purpose,

I learned this lesson playing high school baseball. I was a very good high school fastball hitter. I rarely swung and missed at a fastball regardless of how hard the pitcher was throwing. However, I was not a very good curveball hitter. I rarely got a hit on a curveball. Knowing this fact, I played to my strengths all three years of high school and summer ball. I got in the back of the batter’s box and hit the first fastball that was near the plate. My goal was not to see many curveballs. For the most part that worked well since the next three guys batting behind me in the lineup would all eventually get drafted to play pro baseball. No one wanted to walk me; therefore lots of fastballs!

That approach worked fine until the state semi-final game of my junior year. We were facing a pitcher that threw pretty hard and had a great curveball. It was late in the game, we were down by one run, and I came to bat with a runner on third and one out. The pitcher started me off with two outstanding curveballs, and I wasn’t even close to hitting either one. The game was on the line, and I had to do something different. There was no doubt that I was committed and wanted to succeed as much as anyone, but there was still a challenge to overcome. I moved as far up in the box as I could get, moved closer to the plate, and choked up a little more on the bat. I would try to hit that curve before it broke. I made sure the catcher noticed my change in approach thinking he may notice and go fastball on the next pitch. He did just that and I got enough of that pitch to get a hit between short and third. Not a great hit by any means, but enough to get the run in and tie the game.

While it’s a great attribute to be super committed and persevere, there are times that we need to make adjustments. We have to refocus on our strengths and offset our weaknesses. There are times that we need to change our approach given the circumstances and variables in play at any given time. If we aren’t getting the results we desire, evaluate both strategy and execution. Is our strategy (doing right things) sound in that it will lead to success if executed well? Furthermore, are we equipped to execute it well? A great strategy that can’t be executed well leads to failure. Are we executing (doing things right) at our level of capability? If we are not, why not?

Don’t be too proud to ask for help. Too many leaders take too much pride in the position and don’t get help when they are in trouble. The leader doesn’t have to provide all the answers, but the leader does need to be relentless in getting those answers from all available resources. The leader doesn’t always have to provide the best idea or solution, but the leader does need to engage as many people as possible until the best ideas and solutions are developed.

A solid leader is close enough to the situation to recognize when changes are needed. We need to be sensitive to the follower’s abilities and needs, as well as the circumstances surrounding the team. The leader needs to maintain those core values and purpose, but make adjustments as needed. Leaders should play to the team’s strengths, compensate for those weaknesses, get help when needed, and be a leader worthy of following.

By the way, we ended up winning that game. One of those future pros got a hit right after me, and I scored. I don’t think he had to make any adjustments! He never gets to bat if I don’t swallow some pride and punch out a hit though. Where do you need to choke up and lead your team more effectively today?

A Bully or A Servant – You Pick

For the last week or so, we have all watched the national news and witnessed the conflict that Russia initiated with Ukraine. At the center of this conflict are two men in charge. Two men leading countries that border one another. While the countries have many similarities, they have many differences as well. They both were once part of the old Soviet Union, and they are quite different today with respect to their form of government and with respect to their country’s leader.

While I obviously don’t personally know either of the men in charge, I have witnessed enough in the last two days to form an opinion of each based on their actions, motivations, and responses in the midst of conflict. You have likely witnessed the same things. I have seen the Russian president initiate war with no clear reason other than he had the power to do so. This Russian leader appears to come across very stoic, self centered, uncaring, and cold toward anyone’s needs other than his own. He directs others with intimidation and fear tactics. People seem to do what he wants to avoid punishment as opposed to trusting him and following his leadership. I am not even sure that it’s really appropriate to refer to him as a leader. It is not clear whether anyone is really following him. The Russian people may just be complying with him to avoid the consequences of disobedience. If they aren’t following, he is not leading!

I see just the opposite with respect to the president of Ukraine. While, to be honest, I had not heard of this man prior to the last few weeks. I know very little about his background, can’t necessarily vouch for his character before this conflict, but I can tell you what I have seen recently. I see a leader standing strong with his people providing hope, displaying strength, and leading in the midst of unbelievable challenges. While so many in his position would have fled days ago, he placed others needs ahead of his own and stayed. He is publicly providing guidance through the conflict (addressing issues), encouraging others to join him in the fight (motivating people), and communicating on a world stage to spread their message (unifying a movement). Right now he is the leader I aspire to be.

Let’s move from that comparison and situation and take the significance level down to where we are engaged today. We are likely not engaged in a life and death conflict in the manner that these two men are today. However, we have our own conflicts and issues that we are facing as leaders responsible for other people. The question we have to wrestle with is how are we dealing with issues, treating our people, and maneuvering through our challenges? Are we focused on our own needs, ambitions, and desires or are we seeking the best for the organization and people we lead? Do team members follow us because they trust that we are seeking their best interest or are they avoiding punishment of some sort? Do your team members see you serving them and sacrificing for them or just demanding more from them?

Hey, it’s easy to watch the news, form and opinion, and judge others. It is quite different to observe, reflect, and go be the leader your people need you to be. I don’t know about you, but the more I watch, the more motivated I am to help others be the type leader our people need. I want to do everything I can to help you ultimately be a leader worthy of following!

If you are interested in working through some basic leadership skills with your team or even just focusing on self-development, I put together a concise booklet on leadership skills just perfect for either of those needs. Go to Blurb.com and search for “Leadership Basics for Success”. You will find it practical and easy to identify key takeaways to help you and others grow in leadership.

Balancing Conflicting Priorities

It was November of 1979, and I was a freshmen quarterback on a pretty solid team.  From what I recall, I don’t think we lost but once or twice from 6th grade through 9th grade.  Now I wasn’t the best player by any means on that team.  We had some outstanding athletes on both offense and defense.  I just got the ball to them and enjoyed the success!

There was one special afternoon at the end of our season that I still remember today.  The 8th grade team had an additional game at the end of the season added to their schedule, and our Jr. High coach asked if I was interested in coaching them for that game.  He and the other coaches would still be there, but I would be in charge and call all the plays on offense.  Another player would handle the defensive calls.  Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity.  I think everyone knew I wanted to be a coach at that time, and this opportunity was a great one.  I would also find out it was one huge challenge of battling conflicting priorities.

Needless to say, coaching guys one year younger could be a challenge.  That issue was fairly manageable as I evidently had some credibility with that team.  The real issue was balancing my desire to play everyone in the game and still try to win.  We had some guys on that team that worked hard in practice all year long, but rarely got to play. These guys just lacked the talent to compete against the best players for the other teams.

So there was the dilemma as the game went on.  Things happen so much faster when you are actually on the side lines making decisions, calling plays, and subbing players.  I had a huge desire to win and to show others that I was capable of coaching at even a higher level of competition.  I also wanted to get these guys in the game.  The “real” head coach had even commented to me that this additional game should be a chance to get everyone some playing time. 

As leaders, we will all face conflicting priorities at times, and the consequences will likely be much more important than an 8th grader getting to see the field during a game!  The issues could be extreme and could be very impactful to the people you lead or those that supervise you!  I don’t have the “silver bullet” that will guide you through every one of these situations, but I will share some thoughts that I hope will be helpful in these type situations.

  1. Know your purpose and convictions.  Let those factors that are defined beforehand be your guide here.  Don’t let emotion take over.  You lead from conviction and not emotion.
  2. Take some time to understand the source(s) of what may appear to be conflicting priorities.  Can you address one or both of the issues to create some common ground to eliminate the conflict or at least lessen the significance of the conflict?
  3. Always make short term decisions with long term interests in mind.  You have to survive the short term crisis, but never forget you are in it for the long term. 
  4. You may have a strong preference with one of the apparent conflicting priorities, but you may be caught in the middle of various schools of thought with those superior to you in your organization.  Those are tough situations.  My advice here is to make small moves, communicate concerns, stay close to the situation, and let time be your ally.  Generally time and continued communication helps ease the tension of conflicting priorities.
  5. Always look for common ground.  Build on common ground where you can and stay focused on what’s important.  Don’t let the conflict distract you from leading well. 

By the way, we lost the game that day.  We did get everyone some playing time, and I gained some perspective.  8th grade football games are important to 8th grades in the moment; however, no one remembers, other than me, who won that game.  I do hope it made a difference to some young men that day getting on the field!  

One lessen it has taken me a long time to learn is that long term focus should always direct our short term decisions.   I have to keep asking myself if I am doing the right thing today to ensure the right results long term!  A similar question applies to all of us leading others – Are we doing the right things today to ensure the best outcome for the organization and our people long term?

For a copy of the book “Leadership Basics for Success” see:  Blurb.com and search for the title.  I wrote this short book several years ago to be used in supervisor development.

New Year – Same Challenges

For many of us, we used to think of the new year being a time for New Year’s resolutions and making some improvements in our life.  It was also an opportunity for a fresh start with new goals and a chance to essentially start over.  With all that has gone on the past few years, I think some of that thinking has really been diminished.  In reality, the new year on the calendar really hasn’t changed much.  The same challenges and problems that we faced in December are still there!  There actually may be more issues for many of us.

For that matter, how many of those old New Year’s resolutions were really kept anyway?

Let me share just a couple of thoughts on the new year for you to consider:

  1. If you haven’t already done so, take a quick review of last year.  Evaluate how you did in key areas of your life that are important to you, including your leadership of others.  We need to regularly stop and evaluate.  A new year is a good time to do that.  Give yourself an honest assessment of how you are doing in those key areas.
  2. Once you have taken that look back and made that assessment, that’s it for last year.  Those are memories now and not something we are going to let hinder us going forward.  Don’t let last year’s disappointments or struggles hinder your focus this year. Learn from the past but don’t let the past harm the present.
  3. Evaluate what you may need to do differently this year to move toward the results you want.  Spend some time here.  Results don’t just appear, but rather are the outcomes of some very intentional decisions and commitment over time. 
  4. Think in terms of what is the one thing you need to focus on in the next 90 days to make a noticeable, impactful improvement in a key area of your life.  Notice I said one thing.  Being very specific and targeted at one key area that would possibly change your life. 

While the above is applicable to anyone reading this message, for those desiring to be more effective in leading others, go back and work through those four steps focusing specifically on your leadership of others.  Identify key areas, evaluate last year’s performance, adjust where needed, put the past behind you,  and find that one thing to focus on to make meaningful impact.

Hey, I know we have many things to deal with every day; however, if we can just find that one thing to attack over the next 90 days, our chances of making a real difference as a leader will be much greater! 

So what’s the one thing in the next 90 days that you could really attack that would change things dramatically for those you lead?  Is it a staffing issue?  Is it the culture in your work environment?  Is it a reliability issue?  It could be any number of things.  Identify what your focus needs to be and then attack it with relentless focus with your team.  If you approached each 90 day period in 2022 with that level of intentional focus with your team, regardless of what 2022 holds for us, it will be one outstanding year for you as a leader!

For a copy of the book “Leadership Basics for Success” see:  Blurb.com and search for the title.  I wrote this short book several years ago to be used in supervisor leadership development.

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

As I near the end of my time in my current job, I can’t help but think of so many things I would have liked to have done better.  I deal with this problem all the time.  I still wrestle with regrets from decisions I made in high school, through college, and all the way through the early years of working.  These regrets are often tied to my taking the path of least resistance, the easier path, or one may say just the one that provided the momentary appeal. 

I’m not alone in making those type decisions.  Our society drives that kind of thinking.  Take care of yourself first, live your best life, look out for number one, you deserve it, etc. are all mantras of our society today.  The concepts of comfort, easy living, and instant gratification are all around us.

I am not here to say that there is never a place in ones life for any of those things, but I will tell you that avoiding uncomfortable, hard things is not healthy.  Life is hard, and we need to be prepared to attack the challenges.  That statement is even more true for those in leadership. 

Leaders are follower focused and not self-absorbed.  Leaders never think what’s the easy path, but rather what’s best for the people I am responsible for.  Leaders don’t think how does this decision impact me, but rather how does it impact the team.  Let me provide some specific examples that might hit close to home:

  1. Leaders don’t avoid tough conversations, they act on them timely.
  2. Leaders don’t accept on going performance issues, they develop a plan and execute.
  3. Leaders don’t ignore tough decisions, they get wise counsel and move forward.
  4. Leaders don’t avoid things they don’t understand, they get help.
  5. Leaders don’t just keeping failing at the same old known, comfortable plan, they try new options.

We all need to become comfortable being uncomfortable.  We need to be willing to put ourselves in tough, challenging situations to both grow as a leader and to provide the best for the people we lead.  We will never reach our potential if we don’t go through some challenging times.  This concept is true in every aspect of life. 

  1. If you want to be stronger, you have to pick up heavy things.
  2. If you want to be healthier, you can’t just eat or drink anything you want.
  3. If you want to be a better neighbor, you have to get involved.
  4. If you want to be a better leader, you have to be willing to do hard stuff!

Leadership is not for the lazy, self-absorbed, career climbing person seeking a soft, comfortable life.  Leadership is messy, hard, and sometimes thankless.  But it’s also so desperately needed in every facet of our society today.  I hope you can get comfortable being uncomfortable and be the leader your followers need!

Tomorrow morning, I plan on getting up at 5AM again to work out.  There’s no advantage of working out early vs later in the day.  The workout benefit is the same.  However, it’s uncomfortable for me to get up that early and put myself through a tough workout.  It sets the tone for my thinking for the rest of the day!  I want to be comfortable being uncomfortable!

For a copy of the book “Leadership Basics for Success” see:  Blurb.com and search for the title.  I wrote this short book several years ago to be used in supervisor leadership development.

Slow the Game Down

If you follow sports at all, you have probably heard the term “speed of the game” in various contexts.  Normally, it refers to someone new to the level of play having to adjust to the speed of things happening around them (speed of other players, speed at which coaches communicate, speed of how the game is actually being played, etc.).  Although it now been many years ago, I remember having to adjust to that first varsity game speed in high school.  I can still recall how fast things seem to be moving, coaches yelling out direction at rapid speed, my not understanding half of what was going on, my being out of breath from just the stress, and really just wanting to get off the field and regroup!

I wonder if that’s how newer employees may be experiencing our work environment.  We take it for granted because we have been there for a while.  The speed of things may be natural for many of us reading this message.  However, that may not be true for so many today, as we are having so many new people introduced to our work environments. 

I also wonder if we, as leaders, need to focus on slowing things down!  Now, I don’t mean slow the equipment down and produce less product, but rather slow our approach to leading down and ensure we are taking the time to teach, coach, explain, answer questions, and really engage our employees.  So too often we bark out orders and just work at a rapid pace leaving little time to be leaders and invest in our people.  I wonder if we are really that busy, or are we just accustomed to operating at that pace.

When we push forward at a rapid pace, we set the tone for rushing in the work place.  We set the tone for acting before understanding.  We provide examples of working hard for sure, but at what cost?  Picture the results of the environment I just described.  We are much more likely to make mistakes that could lead to injuries, quality issues, reliability issues, or just disengage our people!

Hey, I get it.  We want to meet our daily goals and do well in our job.  I love the concept of “define the win each day”, “win the day”, etc.; however, we have to properly define success and realize that we won’t ultimately be successful by winning each minute at the expense of long term investment in our people.  For too long, I operated under the premise of success being defined by daily and/or monthly results, just to come in the next day/month and have to do it all over again.  Those days and months matter, but they are just mile markers along the path to help us evaluate how we are doing and make adjustments where needed.  The finish line is somewhere far out in the future. 

We want to hit those targets as often as possible and learn / adjust on those days we don’t.  There will be days on both sides of that spectrum, I can guarantee that for sure!  Don’t overreact.  Don’t get in a hurry.  Take the time to teach, coach, explain, answer questions, and really develop people.  We are in this game for the long term; not just today. 

Slow the game down for our people.  I think you will get more out of it too!  We will all like the results better, both in the short term and long term!

And yes, things did slow down for me after some time on the field.  With a little more practice time (training) and some help from others (mentoring / coaching), I rediscovered  that the game could be fun again. 

For a copy of the book “Leadership Basics for Success” see:  Blurb.com and search for the title.  I wrote this short book several years ago to be used in supervisor leadership development.

It’s Time We Figure This Out

My daughter, a freshman in college, recently told me about an opportunity on campus to be part of a special leadership development group for freshmen.  The organization would select a given number from the applicant pool and provide various developmental opportunities for them during their first year of college.  It sounded great but when I asked who would be conducting the interviews, she said a group of upper classmen.  I obviously was somewhat skeptical when I heard that information, but I thought I would wait and see how this process progressed.  I won’t go into a lot of detail, but I asked her what question(s) this group of upper classmen asked them during the group interview.  She said it was just “what leadership positions did you hold in high school”. 

There’s the problem!  There are no leadership positions.  Leadership is influence, not a position.  Leadership is a “verb” not a position.  Followers make one a leader, not a position.  Now, there are positions that provide an opportunity to have a broader scope of influence, but the position is not the key.  A much better question would have been tell me about the impact you had on your high school campus and why you want to pursue growing your leadership skills on this campus!

Hey, I don’t need to blame these young people for not understanding.  We have a world full of “grown-ups” that don’t get it.  Leadership is not about position, power, being the boss, telling others what to do, getting attention, making more money, being in charge, being well known, getting perks, getting our way, self-promotion, and I can go on and on, but I think you get it.

Leadership is about influencing people regardless of position.  Leadership is about focusing on the people in our charge, not being in charge.  Leadership is a selfless task of focusing on other’s needs and well-being over our own.  Manager and supervisors (positions) are responsible for getting work done through others.  That’s what they do, and we need those things done.  Leadership; however, goes beyond managing and supervising and focuses on influence, impact, and developing a culture of engagement. 

Here’s a few characteristics of leaders for you to consider:

Leaders focus on people first and go after their mission/goal with their people.  People are not another obstacle to deal with but rather the center of our purpose. 

Leaders give their teams all the credit when things go well and accept the responsibility when things go poorly.

Leaders anticipate issues and develop plans to address the challenges before others.  Leaders are out front setting the course for others to follow, not waiting for everything to be clear before making a decision (while people in their charge struggle/suffer).

Leaders continually look to make the complex more simple for others to understand and execute.  They look to streamline and simplify everything they can to promote better execution.  They are not caught up with being the smartest one in the room, but want to help others understand and contribute.

Leaders are comfortable with others providing opinions, getting help from others, learning from others, and seeking advice.  They are comfortable because they are not feeding an ego, but rather serving their followers. 

Leaders continually focus on the long term well-being of the followers and the organization.  While they deal with short term tactical issues, they never lose sight of the long term focus.  They don’t allow themselves to be caught up in short term thinking that leads to long term regrets.

Leaders maintain a proper perspective that keeps long term focus in mind and don’t overreact to short term failures.  Leaders understand that mistakes will be made, and they make the most of the coaching opportunities to improve long term results and build stronger teams.  This perspective leads to a “we” focus and not “me”.

I just share these thoughts to give you an opportunity to reflect on your current impact and evaluate how you are progressing as a leader.  So forget the focus on position and refocus on having a meaningful impact with those in your sphere of influence.  Add value to someone every day!

And if you are curious if you are leading effectively, take a look and see if anyone is following….

For a copy of the book “Leadership Basics for Success” see:  Blurb.com and search for the title.  I wrote this short book several years ago to be used in supervisor leadership development.