Earning the Right to Lead

Earning the Right to be Lead

David W. Hegg

I have a good friend who recently left home for his first spring training as a professional baseball player. After honing his craft through Little League and High School competition, he was recruited by a large university, and did so well he was drafted and signed to a professional contract.

I also know several young men who have acquired and demonstrated sufficient skills and aptitudes to merit major corporations offering them employment contracts.

In one sense, all these young men are in the same situation. They are all professionals, asked to use their skills for the good of the organization, while being compensated for their efforts.

But, there is one major difference: The baseball player knows he must start at the bottom, work harder than most of his teammates, and demonstrate consistent, long-term progress in the skills baseball demands if he wants to gain respectability and move up. He realizes he is a beginner despite previous achievements. He understands there are many who are more skilled than he, and he values their coaching and modeling. He is clear on the fact that he doesn’t know all he needs to know and can’t do all he needs to do in order to make it to the Major Leagues. At least, not yet.

He is also clear on what he has no right to think or do. He knows he can’t go around sulking that, after two months, he hasn’t been asked by the Major League coaches to offer his insights, take his spot on the field, and generally be treated as highly valuable. Simply put, he must be humble enough to learn, focused enough to work extremely hard, and respectful enough to gain the added value of having real relationships with those who can help him improve.

Most of all, he must realize the true level of his value to the organization is, at this point, minimal. The reason? It’s simple. He hasn’t done anything yet. In baseball, accomplishment always precedes recognition and reward. Just because the minor leaguers wear the same uniform and are paid to play doesn’t mean their stock is equal to that of the Major Leaguers.

If only the same thing were true in other arenas of society. Society is witnessing the massive influx of a generation pervasively nourished on their own self-worth. They have bought into the pernicious and erroneous ethical perspective that being alive and human makes them equal to those who have lived more, learned more, done more, and earned the right to speak, act, and lead. They wear their entitlement on their sleeves.

Sadly, in the world of baseball, the failure rate is pretty high. It is usually agreed that only 10% of all those signed to a minor league contract will play at least one game at the Major League level. But apparently, the fact that 90% never make it motivates the minor leaguers to give it their all, and then some. It adjusts their arrogance downward, and propels them to take advantage of every practice, game, coach, and manager they can find. It also means they enter the fray understanding they have a long way to go.

And that’s where many entering the business world show their ignorance. Rather than come in knowing they have a long way to go, they believe they’ve already arrived. They come on the scene wearing an inflated sense of their own importance, their own abilities, and their own value. Even worse, they come armed with entitled expectations, and a great storehouse of indignation just ready to burst forth if they feel under-valued, under-recognized, and under-utilized.

We need to get back to the tried and true concept that value follows achievement, just as insight and ability are honed through experience. This doesn’t mean newcomers don’t have a place. Just as baseball drafts a new crop of hopefuls yearly, so also business recognizes the value of new employees whose potential may actually be greater than that of previous generations. But potential is of little value until it is fulfilled in maturity, experience, and accomplishment.

So, if you at the beginning of your career, learn from the professionals in the baseball world. Be honest about your value and strive to learn from those more experienced. Work hard to improve and succeed at your level. Take your job seriously but never yourself. Be humble, teachable, and honest about your abilities, and prize achievement above status. If you do those things consistently, those with power to promote will certainly take notice.