In case you’ve been living in outer space, let me be the first to inform you that both the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles have won their division championships. And they both clinched on the same day. If these teams keep playing the way they have all season, we may even see a beltway World Series.
Now I’ll admit it – I’m an Oriole fan who had lost faith in the team during the past twenty years as they’ve gone from mediocre season to mediocre season. But they’ve won me back this year and they’ve won me back for a big reason – they are winning the old fashioned Oriole way. They are winning not with a group of superstars, although they have some truly terrific players, but with a team of people pulling together as if they were one living organism. One never knows from game to game which player will lead the franchise to victory. You just know they will win.
And the best part is that the same is true about the Nats. Yes, they have Strasburg, but they are not dominated by him or even two or three great players. They are a team and they play as a team.
But this isn’t really about baseball. It’s about how organizations win. And as has been demonstrated time and time again, they win with teamwork. They don’t win when they have a group of ego-driven superstars all strutting their individual talents. They win when the talents of the individuals are allowed to flower for the benefit of the whole group. So much has been written about this that there is little new I can add. But there are two thoughts I will put out for consideration.
First, let me elaborate on my use of the word “organism” above. I believe the most effective leaders are those who treat their enterprise as an “organism” and not as an “organization.” The difference is more than semantic. An organization is mechanical; it’s “the act or process of putting the different parts of something in a certain order so that they can be found or used easily.” The emphasis here is on the word “parts” and the word “something.” People aren’t parts and they aren’t things and they don’t want to be treated that way.
An organism by contrast is a living entity, a life form. An organism can have many elements, just as we have arms, legs, etc. Every person who is a part of the organism adds (or subtracts) to that organism, but always has an impact on it and helps define it. The addition of every new person changes the entity from what it was before to something new. If you visualize your enterprise as having a single heart and soul—a heart that beats and a soul that feels—you’ll understand what I’m describing; you’ll know that you are visualizing an organism.
A good leader is one who recognizes that his job is to shape all the individual talent that makes up her or his enterprise and works to shape that not into a mechanical form but instead into an organism, or a life form; one that shares common values, objectives, and ways of acting. It is a life form where each member recognizes and values the contribution of every other member. An organism is one where the sum of the members is greater than the math would imply. That’s why we call these things teams.
And this takes me to my second point. Throughout the years I have noticed repeatedly that when I compliment successful leaders in my company on some achievement or other, they very, very often say the same thing. They say something to the effect of “don’t give me the credit; I’m surrounded by great people.” I believe that truly successful leaders have the humility to understand that their success comes from being surrounded by people of exceptional talent, and that their job is to create an environment where that talent will shine.
And so, regardless of the final outcome of the season, my hat is off to Buck Showalter, the O’s manager, Matt Williams, manager of the Nationals, and to the players that make up these two teams. Thank you guys. It’s fun to watch a team at work. Go O’s!