Miguel Ausejo via Unsplash

3 Leadership Lessons from Baseball Ready for the Little and Big Leagues

Louis Lappe took a place in Little League baseball lore last month when he hit a walk-off solo home run in the bottom of the sixth inning to give his El Segundo (California) team the World Series title with a 6-5 win over Curacao.

When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, about 200 miles from where they play the Little League World series each year in Williamsport, Penn., most of my summers included bats, gloves, and baseballs. And like most kids who play the game, I dreamed of hitting that type of home run.

I never played in Williamsport, but the highlight of my brief athletic career did involve baseball. It was the summer following my ninth-grade year of high school, and two teammates and I earned spots on the all-star team. When I came to the plate for my first at-bat of the all-star game, two runners were on base and I hit a pitch out of the park to give our team the lead. As I rounded third and headed toward home, my teammates waited for a mob celebration. We went on to win 8-6.

I’ll never forget the thrill of that moment, partly because I didn’t hit home runs very often. Unlike Lappe, I was more of a singles hitter. On that day in that at-bat, however, everything came together with perfect timing and the ball sailed over the fence. There was a deep sense of satisfaction from feeling like I had done my part in helping the team win the game.

I’ve always loved the game of baseball, and not just because of the all-star moment. It was hard not to be a baseball fan while growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1970s. The Pirates dominated the National League East during that decade, winning their division six times. They won the World Series in 1971 with Roberto Clemente, and the “Lumber Company,” as they were called in 1979, won the World Series with stars like Willie Stargell and Dave Parker.

So when the calendar makes its way through the end of summer and toward October, I find myself looking forward to major league baseball playoffs and reflecting on my love for the game and the lessons it has taught me about life and leadership.

For me, sports provided opportunities to have fun, to develop a healthy competitive drive, build relationships, and learn how to deal with both success and failure. After moving on from baseball diamonds to offices and boardrooms, here are three lessons I’ve tried not to forget:

Winning plays leads to winning games.

Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it helps build consistency. The better we get at making winning plays—whether it’s fielding ground balls cleanly or responding with patience during a tense situation with a co-worker—the more we see positive results and the more trust we build with our teammates.

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Failure is part of the process.

The higher up we rise in leadership, the harder it can be to admit and address our failures. But the best hitters strike out and the best pitchers give up home runs. The key is to learn from the failures so we can improve.

Success is worth celebrating.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t do a bat flip when I hit my home run in the all-star game or do anything to taunt the other team’s pitcher, but I celebrated and my teammates celebrated with me. The celebration marked the moment. If no one had celebrated with me, I’d still remember getting the hit, but I wouldn’t remember it so fondly.

Books have been written about the parallels between sports and leadership, so those three lessons are far from all-inclusive. That’s one reason I’m looking forward to a discussion I will have in a few weeks on Off The Rak. My guests will be two longtime baseball insiders, Clint Hurdle and Dan O’Dowd. Clint played more than 500 games in the big leagues and was the manager of the Colorado Rockies and the Pirates. O’Dowd was the Rockies’ general manager from 1999-2014.

Clint and Dan have both experienced the highs and lows that come with baseball, and on a far bigger stage than me or even Lappe. My guess is that they cherish the memories, but they know there’s more to life than getting a big hit in an important game. What matters even more is learning something from the game so that you can make a positive difference in the lives of others. Lappe and his teammates earned their moment in the spotlight, but hopefully it will become just one of many defining moments. Some of them might go on to have big-league careers, but the lessons they learned will play out in every area of their lives.


  1. Steve South

    Walt, I share your love for the game. Unfortunately for me instead of the Pirates, I was routing for our local MLB team – the consistently last place Washington Senators. The three simple lessons you shared in this post are so impactful because they are so simple and basic. If more leaders would simply admit their mistakes and failures and learn with their team from them, what a healthy environment their company would have. Similar to what you did with ProLogis.

    Reply to Steve South

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