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Leslie Grossman

Leslie Grossman

Posted: October 23, 2009 09:54 AM

What Leaders Can Learn from a Baseball Umpire

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I am a huge New York Yankee fan and I talk about them and write about them a lot.
This annoys some of my female friends and business associates but I can't help it. I learned to enjoy professional sports from my husband Richie and my son Josh. They are huge fans and I don't like to be left out of any conversation or activity.

Now that I'm a rabid Yankee and Giants fan and yes, even a Rangers fan, I pretty much have my entire year occupied with sports, as well as a million other things that women do. Of course, as a multi-tasking woman, I am always trying to get more out of everything. So I can't just enjoy watching the games, I have to learn from watching the games. I recently realized that most men do that innately, which is why they incorporate sports metaphors into their business conversations.

I'm not one for sports metaphors, but something happened after Game 4 of the ALCS, which caught me off base. It sends a powerful message to would-be leaders, including those who led us into our current fiscal crisis. Besides the Yankees beating the Angels by 10 - 1, there was a second big story about that game. It was the multiple bad calls made by the umpires. My husband tells me it happens every day, but in game 4, it was blatant.

Umpire Tim McClelland, who it is said, is highly respected, made two bad calls. How do we know they were bad? Because all the fans and officials saw them on the video replays. But in baseball, umpires' calls can't be reviewed on video and changed, unless it involves a home run. (I do know a bit about baseball, don't I?) The fans booed the missed calls at the stadium, but to no avail.

Then the next day something surprising happened. Tim McClelland said to the media, "I'm sorry. I made two mistakes." He didn't try to weasel out of it. He didn't make any excuses. He didn't blame it on someone else. He didn't even hide out and say nothing. He actually admitted he had made two mistakes. Wow! I was surprised. We rarely hear those words from people in power, our so-called leaders. Can you imagine if Kenneth Lewis, Chair and CEO of Bank of America, had said, "I'm sorry. I made a mistake" related to the Merrill Lynch deal. Or what about during the Bush II administration when Attorney General Alberto Gonzales acknowledged that "mistakes were made" when commenting on the misappropriate firing of U.S. Attorneys? He didn't say that he made the mistakes. He abstractly used the "M" word without accepting responsibility. Referring to mistakes in the abstract seems to be a common tactic for those at high levels of power.

Again, that's why it was such a welcome surprise to read about an umpire taking responsibility. He could have made an excuse like "my vision was blocked." But he didn't. He just said, "I made two mistakes." In a world where most people think they must be right all the time, it is a rare occasion when a person in an influential position admits a mistake and takes responsibility. I have tremendous respect for umpire Tim McClelland. He showed true leadership. In fact, in my opinion he scored a home run.



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