Leadership Development Plans Meet Baseball Fundamentals

The batter hits a soft single to left. The runner on second, after hesitating, heads to third. My son, the third baseman, moves to the bag, watching the left fielder field the ball off the turf and the runner heading to third. With fans, players, and coaches yelling to seemingly everyone on the field what to do, the left fielder throws the ball to my son at third. As the ball arrives to his glove at about shoulder level, the runner is sliding into the bag. Attempting to tag him with the swipe of his glove, my son drops the ball, it bounces away into foul territory and the runner scores. The one run lead is lost and now the game is tied in the final inning of the game. Another run would score that inning for the home team. Game over.

Lesson Learned

The dropped ball and resulting run scored was a tough moment for my son, his teammates, and me, his coach. Errors happen, especially at the 13-15 year old level my son plays. We talked about the play on the way home. “Dad, I saw the runner sliding and I was trying to catch the ball and swing my glove down in time to tag him out, but I guess I never really had the ball in my glove.” Most likely, you know what my coaching would be: “Make sure you catch the ball first, and then tag the runner”.

Earlier in the game, a sharp grounder was hit to him at third. He fielded it cleanly, stepped toward first and made a strong throw to get the runner out. Good play.

Baseball Fundamentals

As a baseball coach, I understand what happened when the error happened. My son was watching the ball, watching the runner, moving into position, and hearing people yelling to him, the other fielders and the runner-all at the same time. Attempting to do several things in a stressful situation with lots of background noise, he missed the play and failed to get the desired outcome. Sound familiar? It does to me, not only as a baseball coach, but as a leadership development practitioner and coach.

What about Leadership Development Plans?

Leaders often attempt to work multiple areas for development at the same time. Organizations sometimes encourage this approach. The development plan might call for working on building strategic thinking ability, becoming more innovative, developing relationships across the business, avoiding micromanaging the team, and improving presentation skills – all in a short period of time, with many pressing business demands and performance expectations and personal demands on their time as well. It’s not surprising that in this context, many leaders struggle to successfully realize their leadership development goals. Maybe there is a brief spurt of success (moving into position, anticipating what behavior needs to come next, and sometimes making the play). But often, with all the noise, the play is missed and so is the desired business result. Oh well, old habits are hard to break.

Development Plan Fundamentals

The lesson. . . more often, designed leadership development plans and accompanying coaching need to adhere to the fundamentals of the earlier play my son made: focus on the priority (identify a focus area for development), get the proper grip on it (fully understand the targeted behavior or skill called for in the situation), step forward in the right direction (take the initiative per the development plan), and execute. Prioritize. Focus. Have an action plan. Execute. Check results. Of course, the real work environment is full of noise and priorities. And practically speaking, leaders need to be able to make the right play in the midst of all of that. Yet, in such an environment, how likely is it that multiple development priorities can be fully realized in a short period of time? Why not build leader competencies in such a way that success is clear and impactful?

Take a pragmatic approach to narrowing a specific development plan; execute and realize success before moving on to tackling additional skills or behaviors. Do this and increase the likelihood that the right play will be made at the right time when the game is on the line.