World Series Leadership in Unlikely Places

I’ve been day-dreaming all day about what Jason Heyward said to the Cubs during that lucky rain break on Game 7 of the World Series.

How did he get the players, who had been missing silly plays left and right, to re-focus and act in unison going into the top of the 10th inning? How did he get Chapman, who moments before, had been in tears on the player bench, to forgive himself? How did he combat the insanely high emotional pressure, the anger, the blaming, the finger-pointing, and the resigned attitudes that had surely set in? And how did he do all that in just 17 minutes?

What I love about this story is that the “5 hour energy shot of motivation” that propelled the Cubs to victory came from the most unlikely of places: a right fielder who just wanted to remind his teammates who good they are and how proud he felt to play with them. Heyward’s words hit a homerun with his teammates that put an end to their century-long drought of World Series wins. Their abilities were exactly the same, but when they came out of that locker room, their attitudes were vastly different.

Before we forget about these pivotal 17 minutes and close the book on this chapter of Cubs lore, I’d like to ask you all to consider the choice Heyward made in that locker room. Nobody asked him to give a pep talk. Nobody expected him to do it. And I think we can be fairly certain there was not a clause in his job description that, should they be stuck in a fluke rain delay during a tight game, it was Heyward’s responsibility to give the team a winning pep talk. Which is precisely what makes it so special.

I applaud Heyward for avoiding the easy path. That’s a path we all have a chance to take every single day. To give into our fatigue, trudge back into the locker room, grit our teeth at our teammates, curse under our breath, and get so caught up in our own rage and resentment that we consider switching teams next year. To sit silently and replay every bad call that management made. To wait expectantly for someone else to walk in and do the inspiring. To start to believe you deserve more, that you are better than all this, and that it’s impossible to find success in these circumstances. After all, no one would blame you for leaving. Everybody would understand why you walked away from a “World Series Wannabe Winner” and signed with a new team next season. You could essentially award yourself a “get out of jail free” card for giving up. But you would also be throwing away a shot at greatness.

Heyward didn’t let himself fall for any of those excuses. Instead, he rolled up his sleeves and rallied the troops. Voluntarily. Quietly. He didn’t have anyone record a video of his talk or prepare anything fancy or polished. Heyward just stood in a pretty barren locker room, surrounded by his teammates and spoke from the heart. If only we could all aspire to be so authentic.

That’s the power of pure leadership. And no matter where you fall in your organization or team, leadership doesn’t just come from the top. In fact, sometimes, it’s far better for it to come from someone who’s also stuck down there in the trenches. So the next time you’re stuck in a tied game at overtime while it’s raining outside, I hope you can play the part of Heyward for your group. You just might end up with a W.

GM @USV, alum of @StackOverflow and @NorthwesternU, board member at @CompSci_High and @NUalumni, co-founder of #BeyondCodingNYC

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