One of the things I look forward to most as the CEO of a venture backed company is the chance to meet and spend time with others in the same role. EnerTech Capital (Tangents lead VC) understands the value of this type of interaction and provides several opportunities for the heads of its portfolio companies to get together. I am attending one of these gatherings later this month in Montreal, where Ive been asked to participate in a leadership and team building panel discussion.
Over the course of my career I have had the good fortune to work with a number of role models and mentors who taught me valuable lessons about leadership and normally I would draw on them for thoughts in preparation for the conference. However, this invitation came my way at the start of baseball season – a time of year when my mind is preoccupied with the optimism of a new season. So, I decided to go with the flow and frame my comments within the context of our national pastime. Thats when my plans took an unexpected turn.
Despite all of the legendary on- and off-field leadership examples in the sport, my train of thought kept returning to an unlikely source — my sons baseball coach. The thought stubbornly persisted so I asked myself what qualities in Coach Robinson were conveying such a strong impression of leadership. After taking a mental inventory of our interactions I was able to build a solid list of his qualities, but still had not put my finger on why him and not someone in the hall of fame.
Then I realized I was looking for my answer in the wrong place.
When I stopped looking for signs of leadership in Coach Robinson, and started thinking about his players, I had my answer.
Every kid on that team believed they played an important role in the shared vision of the team – to win the Pennsylvania state championship. His leadership was not about the strategies of the coach or the skill of star players. It was about building a sense of participation and self-confidence in every player. Over and over I watched Coach Robinson talk to each kid about their individual contributions, then put them into games in critical situations without hesitation. Even on days when my son was not pitching, I would hear the coach holler across the diamond “Hey Muss, get loose, we are going to need you.” He made everyone part of every victory.
In my opinion, this was the secret to leadership. He made me realize that my job had less to do with getting people to believe in me; and more to do with getting them to believe in themselves. Thinking about it, I probably had already learned this lesson many years ago. I had forgotten that the most enduring memories of my own mentors were not grounded in things they did, but rather in the things they got me to do. I was reminded of it last year when I watched a veteran baseball coach inspire a group of high school seniors to achieve a vision.
I learned a lot last year watching Coach Robinson and believe his lessons on leadership will be well received when I share them with my colleagues in Montreal:
- Leadership is found by looking at who is following.
- Leadership is cultivated by promoting a sense of confidence not a sense of awe
- Leadership is measured by the contributions of the team, not the accomplishments of the leader.
So, thanks Coach Robinson, not only for teaching my son and his fellow players a thing or two about life, but also thanks for reminding me about an important leadership lesson.