100 MPH Leadership


I admit I still subscribe to the local daily newspaper, the Houston Chronicle and my morning routine is reading the sports section with my coffee and breakfast. Leadership in sports is fascinating to me … from owner to locker room. The newspaper sports section is a daily report on organizational performance.  Like a corporate dashboard, scores are tallied daily, win or lose.  But I digress.

Last week I was glad to find a great baseball story about Nolan Ryan – glad because the night before our Houston Rockets led the Portland Trail Blazers 108 – 106 with 0.9 seconds left on the clock. The score when time expired?  109 – 108 Trailblazers.  Mighty Casey forgot to guard Damian Lillard.  So Mr. Ortiz’ story saved the day.

You might remember that Nolan Ryan retired as the Texas Rangers CEO last October. “Retired” was the word used in the Rangers press release and Ryan, while there were some speculation about his relationship with the club’s president and GM, Jon Daniels … Ryan took the high road and deflected that speculation. At the time he also said he was not interested in another baseball opportunity – rather, it was time for him to enjoy his ranch and grandkids.  Oh, but you can take a man out of base ball, but you can’t take … well, you know.

Since then he has joined Houston Astros organization as special advisor to the Astros owner, Jim Crane where Nolan’s son, Reid, is now president.  Ortiz writes about Nolan, Astros manager Bo Porter and bench coach Dave Trembley driving 2 ½ hours from Houston to see a 100 mile-per-hour Shepherd Texas high school pitcher, Tyler Kolek throw his final high school game in a playoff (loss) with Jasper. The story reveals the key attribute of Ryan – his heart.

After the game, he signs autographs for fans while the Shepherd team huddles in the outfield to reflect on the night’s loss and their season. He talked to Tyler’s parents and empathizes with Tyler’s mom about his own memories of how hard it was watching his own kids play ball … wanting them to do well. Then he takes time to talk to Tyler and Tyler’s younger brother. Tyler asked for a picture with his baseball idol and Nolan says “come on mom, get in here”.   In this subtle gesture he honors Tyler’s parents … and he notes the strength of their family values. Ryan, from his own career, understands and values the stability of a supportive family in professional sports.

Baseball players, and athletes in general, perform better when management cares about the whole person, not just their fastball. You can’t expect a player to care about their teammates if it is absent at the top.  Something clicked when I read this story. I’m eager to explore the “heart matters” of leadership in the context of “didn’t have to”.  I think there must be a significant correlation with expressions of leadership connections ( aka love ) via demonstrations that the leader didn’t “have to” deliver.  Stay tuned.

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