Attitude is Everything: Leadership Lessons from Dad and Softball

Everywhere we turn, we’re bombarded with messages about how to improve ourselves.

Sign up for this program or service (and part with some hard-earned cash), and in no time at all, we’ll be new and improved!

I’m certainly not opposed to obtaining new skills and learning new things. I like to think of myself as an avid life-long learner.

But sometimes the pursuit of skills or the existence of an innate talent, leads us to overlook the role attitude plays in defining and achieving success.

In my case, it took me awhile to comprehend just how important attitude really is.

I can pinpoint the moment I learned the lesson, though, because I have two very vivid, softball-related memories.

Memory 1

Me, age 13, standing on the pitcher’s mound, crying and screaming at my teammates. My dad (the coach) calls time out, strides to the mound and calmly but firmly tells me to take a walk.

“No way!” I yell at him. “I’m the best pitcher on the team! You’re gonna make us lose this game!”

He doesn’t say anything else. Just points to the bench.

We lose.

On the way home he tells me how disappointed he is in my behavior. He tells me that leaders need to have a good attitude and guide their teams with positivity and encouragement.

That’s the way my dad leads … in stark contrast to most of the other dad-coaches. And I know that molding the character of his team (especially my character) is more important to him than the outcome of any game.

Memory 2

Me, age 15, playing third base during an All-Star Sectional Playoff game. Our team is facing a 15-run deficit. Our dreams of advancing to Regionals are quickly fading.

And yet, I’m smiling, clapping, encouraging every member of our team, and emotionally supporting our second-string pitcher.

At some point, the coach (my dad) exiles our first-string catcher to center-field, where her grumbling, screaming, and yelling won’t impact everyone else. He later benches our second baseman for throwing her helmet and bat after striking out.

But I keep cheering, smiling, and encouraging. Even though I wish I was the one on the pitcher’s mound. Even though I know this will probably be my last All Star Game ever.

“We CAN do this,” I say. “You know we can!”

And slowly, my positive attitude begins to impact everyone else. The first baseman hits a home run. The catcher and the second baseman stop sulking.

We rally — our parents and our dugout are going wild — and we close the gap to just one run!

We lose.

And still I smile. It’s sad this time, but genuine. I hug my teammates. Congratulate them on an amazing comeback. Congratulate the other team on their win.

I climb into the car, and the first words out of my dad’s mouth have nothing to do with the loss. “I’m proud of you,” he says. “You had a great attitude tonight.”

The Attitude Lesson

The memory of that night has stayed with me my entire life.

I remember exactly how I felt as I focused on building up my teammates instead of wallowing in my own frustration. Strong. Calm. Positive.

I remember how my teammates responded. Trading their frustration for encouragement and camaraderie. Recognizing that playing together had value regardless of whether we were winning.

And I remember realizing: my skills and talents made me a star player, but my attitude transformed me into a true leader.

I’m eternally thankful that my dad took the time to teach me that lesson. It was a long road for him. He dealt with my bad attitude for many years, patiently leading by example as he modeled positive, encouraging, and collaborative behavior.

He showed me that skills or talents do not a leader make. It’s the way we approach situations, the way we treat others, and the way we handle set-backs that make us worthy of being followed. He taught me that character counts.

And, though I may have been his primary audience, I’m not the only one impacted by his caring leadership.

Every time I run into a girl (now grown) who was coached by my dad, they always ask about him. They tell me stories about how he encouraged, taught, and impacted them. Always with a smile on their face. And always ending with a comment like, “What a great coach!”

In other words, what a great leader.

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