Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How Mentors Can Help

Earlier this month I enjoyed listening to a baseball hero of mine, Cal Ripken, Jr., talk to a room full of business executives. He shared the eight principles that helped him beat the "unbeatable" record of consecutive games played in the Major Leagues, outlined in his book Get in the Game: 8 Elements of Perseverance that Make the Difference.

He shared the following experience that portrays how business mentors can make a huge difference in outcomes. Several years into his career his team drafted a hot-shot pitcher with a fastball that put fear into even the greatest hitters and a curveball and changeup that, when they were working, were unhittable. With as much hype and attention this new pitcher attracted, he fell far short of expectations having struggled for the first half of the season. With runners on base and a tough hitter coming to the plate, the rookie catcher approached the mound.

After a few seconds, Cal joined them at the mound from his position at shortstop, a rare occurrence, and asked what the meeting was about. The pitcher looked at Cal and explained he had no idea what to do in this situation. Cal looked at the young catcher who shrugged his shoulders, clarifying that their meeting was going nowhere. Cal told the pitcher what pitches to pitch along with when and where to pitch them. Three pitches later the batter walked back to the dugout, frustrated after striking out. The young pitcher and catcher had found their mentor, someone with experience and perspective that could make all of their talents, efforts, and enthusiasm as effective as possible.

Cal went on to explain that for the rest of that season he called a lot of pitches from his position at shortstop, giving signs to the catcher who then relayed them to the pitcher. This was, and still is, unheard of and unprecedented. But it worked amazingly well as this pitcher turned his career around and the Orioles were all but unbeatable the second half of the season. In business, we have to be humble and hungry enough to seek out those with more wisdom and more battle-tested experience than we have to tell us what pitches to throw, who to throw them to, and when to throw them!