By Michael Holland     

It is the 5th inning and the team is down 9 to 0 in the national championship baseball game.  The coach looks around at his team of teenagers playing in what they see as the most important game of their lives.  He’s a talented coach and was a star baseball player himself.  He knows the look well which is on every kid’s face, that look of discouragement and lack of belief in themselves to overcome the major obstacles of this game.  That look revealing the heavy weight of energy sapping fear.  The coach changes one thing which becomes a keystone to changing the outcome of the game.

The coach adjusts the prime directive.  He tells his players all they need to care about is while they are at bat, they need to focus on getting a hit to get them to 1st base.  That’s all.  Don’t worry about the score or the other players or trying to get the big hit.  Just focus on the fundamentals of hitting the ball to get a single and believe that you will get that hit.

The momentum started with a hit and a player going to 1st base.  It continued as player after player focused on the prime directive of getting a hit to get to 1st base.  By the 9th inning the team had overcome the score differential and overtaken the other team to win the game.

The science of management can be learned fairly easily.  The art of leadership though, is something that evolves organically in one’s nature.  It’s the confluence of an instinct and insight: An instinct that something needs to be adjusted and the insight, combined with wisdom and courage, to take a specific action.  Usually the action itself is not difficult but merely a behavior which employees know how to perform.  But you need to have the insight to see your options and to assess in a moment what action to take.

The lesson those ballplayers learned that day far outlasts the game.  They saw, felt, and tasted good, inspired leadership. They experienced a coach who showed them the obtainability of a future state through a behavior they knew well.  The coach slightly turned the dial of focus to narrow in on an exact behavior that created small results culminating in a cascade of larger results.  He changed the prime directive.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • What is your prime directive for today, this week?  Hint:  This is not your to do list.
  • Think about an employee who is doing well but hasn’t yet hit her full stride.  What are you doing to limit her success in how you lead her towards a prime directive?
  • Think about a major success you’ve had and then analyze the behaviors that led to your success.  Were there any keystone behaviors that changed the course of events?