Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward was arguably the goat of his team’s historic post-season. Until he wasn’t. And therein lies an important lesson about the nature of leadership, team and performance.
Heyward is a gifted baseball player, a power hitter who is considered among the top defensive players in the game. That potent combination of on-field skills is what prompted the Cubbies last December to sign Heyward to a $184 million eight-year contract.
Alas, Heyward struggled throughout the Cubs’ 103-win 2016 season, batting .230 with just seven home runs – both career lows. His post-season performance was even worse. Heyward averaged .104 and had just 16 hits – none of them homers.
Had the Cubs lost the World Series, Heyward’s anemic numbers (and huge salary) would no doubt have fueled lots of rancorous bar talk in the Windy City. But the Cubs did win, thanks, in no small measure, to Jason Heyward.
By now you know the story. The Cubs had blown a three-run led over Cleveland in Game Seven. During perhaps the most fortuitous rain delay in MLB history, Heyward, a relatively quiet guy, herded his glum teammates into a small weight room and delivered a simple message: Believe in yourself. Believe in us. Believe in all we’ve accomplished.
As the Cubs celebrated their 10th inning victory and championship for the ages, several players credited Heyward’s speech with spurring them to the title.
As Heyward’s story demonstrates, as team members we ideally play multiple roles beyond our job title. We aren’t just salespeople or programmers or accountants. Each of us is also a supporter of the team who is willing to pick up slack as necessary. Each of us, regardless of job title or seniority, should also be a leader, ready to provide guidance and inspiration in a moment of necessity.
We never know when that moment is coming, but when does, we need to have the confidence and courage to step up, regardless of our status or recent performance. We should never let self-pity or embarrassment keep us from making our full contribution. Being in a sales slump shouldn’t stop you from offering your experience-based ideas with colleagues who are struggling to break through on a potential key account. Missing that last promotion must not prevent you from volunteering to take on some additional duties essential to the team hitting its annual goal.
Leaders need to empower and encourage their team members to fully contribute. Can you even imagine if Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon had told Heyward, “Yeah, ummm, I’ll handle the pep talk”? If we want our staff to be truly bought-in and passionate about their work, we need to let them bring all their skills to the office, including those not listed in the job description.
Jason Heyward was hired to hit and catch the baseball. Yet, he arguably earned his entire contract off the field — by speaking from his heart at a critical time. Heyward was a leader for 19 minutes and it changed sports history. Who knows? A similar moment could be equally transformative for your team and organization.