In the interest of full disclosure, I can safely say that I may be walking into dangerous territory here. There are a few Red Sox fans (and I think even a Cubs fan...) on Team Ovation. Singing the praises of the New York Yankees prized #2, Derek Jeter, might be a bit risky.
However, if your social media streams exploded last night during Derek Jeter's final game anything like mine did, you probably noticed that shout-outs for "The Captain" came from fans of all kinds. Cheers of admiration and respect flooded my newsfeed; one from a long time Mets fan, and a few from — gasp! — Red Sox fans themselves. What is it about #2 and the leadership qualities he exhibits that has earned him the admiration and respect of so many?
Full disclosure number 2: There are three generations of Yankees fans in my family, so I've heard a lot of (perhaps) biased opinions. However we can learn a lot from the reactions of others. Over the years, whether it be sportscasters, Yankee-lovers, or opposing team fans, Jeter's professionalism in the workplace is mentioned as equally as his great ability as a ball player. To analyze his overall career would take a more experienced sports analyst than I. However, I would like to venture my (unscientific) opinion, and use a clip of his last hit as an example.
"Derek Jeter has always been above the fray. As someone who's wallowed in it, 'foot-in-mouthed' it hundreds of times, said dumb things and backed up dumber ones, it's refreshing. He's shown up, played, and turned in a first-ballot Hall of Fame career in the hardest environment in sports to do any/all of the above."
—Curt Schilling, September 14, 2009 (via wikipedia.com)
In case you missed it, let's (as they say) go to the videotape!:
Although only 4.5 minutes long, here are some leadership lessons we can learn from #2's goodbye:
He keeps it about the work.
From the moment he walks to the plate, Jeter (as well as everyone else in the stadium) knows that this is a history making at-bat. Good, bad, or indifferent, it will always be remembered. As he swings the bat and preps, there is no grandstanding, no showing off for the crowd, no overblown swaggering walk. In fact, if you didn't know what was happening, this would look just like any other at-bat on any other night. He knows he's got work to do, and the celebration can happen later.
Whether it's a nervous executive or a preening rock star, lacking leaders sometimes forget that, no matter what, you've got to get the job done. An important tenet of emotional intelligence skills is emotional self management- true leaders are able to acknowledge their emotional state, but keep doing the work. No doubt Jeter had the front seat on an emotional roller coaster at the moment, but he keeps it cool and does his job.
He succeeds in a clutch.
They don't call him Captain Clutch for nothing. Under pressure, Jeter delivers. Perhaps because of his focus on doing the work, he's able to excel in the most pressurized of moments. Ending your career with a walk-off, on the home field with friends, family and teammates watching, ain't easy. But, he did.
Everyone, even #2, is only human. We all respond to pressure differently. However being able to excel in a difficult situation is a trait of a true leader. As our Managing Director of Program Delivery David Marcotte likes to say, "Champions adjust." Indeed they do, especially when it comes to making things happen when the going gets tough.
He's got the respect of his team.
Once that amazing play has happened, and a big smile crosses Jeter's face, his teammates flood the field with hugs and cheers. The admiration and respect shown to him by his teammates is abundant. And in receiving that respect, he is just one of the team- he's not aloof, or removed, or self-congratulatory. He is one of them.
Respect and leadership obviously go hand-in-hand, but the old trope, "I'd rather be feared than loved" is too often a leadership go-to. If the respect and admiration for Jeter was not there, even in a celebratory moment, you'd know. A cowering, resentful team is no team at all.
He's got the respect of other leaders, as well.
One of my favorite moments in the clip is when the camera pans and we see former manager Joe
Torre along with past players like Bernie Williams, Andy Pettite and Mariano Rivera. Acknowledged as great leaders themselves, they are there to tip their hats to The Captain.
When your old boss can speak well of you and your career trajectory, you know you're doing something right. Having the respect of others you respect speaks volumes about your leadership qualities.
He acknowledges those who put him there.
It's not just a celebration for Jeter and his friends. His walk of acknowledgement to the fans, culminating in a few seconds "crouching" in the short-stop position that made him famous, said that he knows the value of each and every fan in the stadium. By giving them a humble "thank you" and "goodbye," he acknowledges the fact that leaders don't simply arise on their own — it takes other humans to put them there.
No leader is an island, and it takes more than just efforts made on behalf of oneself to become a leader. You've got to inspire, persuade, commiserate with, and win the respect of those around you to ascend to the heights of a true leadership.
He gives back.
Full disclosure #3: this story comes to me through word-of-mouth. I happen to have family in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where Jeter did most of his growing up. Every now and again, around town, you may catch a plaque here, or a mention there, of the hometown hero. But what amazed me the most was to hear from residents of the area that he — quietly, with little to no fanfare — gives back in many ways to the city. He reaches out to help folks who need it. His success isn't just about him — it's about bringing success to others as well. Truly admirable.
Professionalism in the workplace, mutual respect, career excellence, kindness, and humility all play a part in making leaders like #2. For all of my (potentially biased, I'll admit) full disclosures, he is clearly a leader with a lot to teach. And for that, we tip our hats to him, as well.