Keeping Your Eye on the Ball

I had an occasion this week to watch (again) one of my favorite Brad Pitt movies – Moneyball. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a great story about the man (Billy Beane) who rethought how to win in baseball after being thrown many curves, ultimately leading his team to amazing results. I have a special connection to baseball since I trailed my youngest brother through college ball and into the minor leagues. But even in spite of that, this story rings my bell with its rich life lessons and, not surprisingly, its MANY great references to leadership.


One of my favorite parts of the story comes when Billy Beane makes a recruiting visit to the home of Scott Hatteberg. You see, Scott was a catcher during his professional career.  Now with a serious injury to his throwing arm, he finds himself without a baseball home – and looking down his career line with the potential of not returning to the sport and job he loves.  After all, what ball club wants a catcher who can’t throw a runner out at second?


In walks Billy Beane.  Billy, in his new-fangled way of looking at the sport, is excited about the prospect of signing Scott.  Confused, Scott reminds him that he’s not going to be a strong catcher given his weak arm.  But Billy, who’s on to something big here, says, “Good news is, we want you at first.  We want you to play first base for the Oakland A’s.“  “But I’ve only ever played catcher,” says Scott.  And then strikingly, Billy breaks the news: “Scott, you are not a catcher anymore.”


As we all know, in baseball, players are valued for who they are today.  It defines their identity in the sport.  When they no longer can deliver to that, they usually lose their value and their place. What Billy realized in his turn of the art was that instead of focusing on players to fill the positions, he was going to focus on players who would score the team runs – because runs ultimately win the game.   When he chose to look at his talent gap through a different lens, he was able to see many new solutions that benefited players and the ball club.  And that’s why Scott became so valuable to the club when no one else wanted him.  Everyone else, including Scott himself, saw him as a catcher.  Billy was able to look beyond and see him as a run getter, and was willing to teach him what he needed to know to get the job done at first base. No worries Scott…”We’re going to teach you.“


Moneyball is full of examples of placing people in positions of strength to help them - and the team - succeed.  Even the tenured player David Justice, who was trying to hold on to being a powerhouse player at the twilight of his playing career, was asked to step out of that and instead step into being a leader for the new players using his unique and exceptional expertise.  Same David.  New purpose.  New David.  Stronger team.


Keeping our leadership focused on featuring the strengths of our team members takes intention, but it sure can deliver home runs. And it’s important to recognize that our dynamic organizations sometimes require we look beyond where someone has been a strong contributor in the past and reveal new places of strength from which they can newly contribute.  When at work this week, think about your team members as individuals and be curious about a few things:


  • Do you and your team members have an awareness of the strengths of each member of the team? How does that awareness lead your work?
  • How can your team further leverage the known strengths of each member?
  • What can you practice in your leadership to continue to emphasize a strengths-focused work culture?


Hitting on the strengths will be a game-changing move.  Let’s all step up to the plate and see if we can score.

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