Opportunities to do the right thing can grab our attention like a mastodon bursting into our living room. At other times, however, they emerge unexpectedly — more like a yawning cat that we suddenly realize has been sleeping for hours in a nearby chair.
Regardless of how opportunity presents itself, we have to decide what to do with it. The mastodon is hard to ignore, but it’s all too easy to dismiss the yawning cat. I think that’s why there’s something incredibly special about witnessing a leader seize an opportunity that emerged quietly and easily could have been disregarded.
Dan O’Dowd could have ignored the prompting in his spirit on the day he and Clint Hurdle visited with me for an episode of Off the Rak. Instead, he demonstrated what transparency looks like in a leader by opening up for the first time about a missed opportunity that involved one of his closest friends—Clint Hurdle, the other guest on the show.
Frankly, it was a bit of a wow moment for me. I talk often about transparency and sharing a window into your soul, and I’ve tried to live that out in my leadership. I’m not sure, however, that I’ve ever witnessed it in such an impromptu and genuine way as I did that day with Dan and Clint.
Dan is a former general manager in major league baseball, and Clint is a former big-league player and manager. They were on the show to talk about how the leadership lessons from building and running a baseball team translate to leading in other organizations.
As the general manager of the Colorado Rockies, Dan hired Clint in 2002 to be the team’s manager and they were part of a truly magical season in 2007. Colorado won 14 of its final 15 games that year to force a tiebreaker game with San Diego for a spot in the playoffs. The Rockies won that game and went all the way to the World Series before losing to Boston.
Dan and Clint shared stories about how that team was built and how it came together for its historic hot streak. They had great players, of course, but part of their strength was the relationships between the players, coaches, and staff. They cultivated a steadfast commitment born of genuine love for one another, and that’s incredibly hard in any organization, much less one so dependent on relatively young, highly diverse, strong-willed players.
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Two years later after the World Series run, however, the Rockies struggled early and often and the organization decided to replace Clint as the team’s manager.
“We got to the decision to let Clint go,” Dan said, “and I struggled with it because we preached family — all we talked about was family — and here we are letting a person go that represented everything that was right in our organization.”
It was up to Dan to deliver the news to his close friend.
“It was the most emotionally challenging decision that I was ever faced with,” Dan said. “But I’ve never really explained why, and I’d like to today, because I have been racked with guilt about that decision from the moment it was made.”
Dan never said it was the wrong decision, and he knew Clint would quickly land another job. Those were not the sources of his guilt. Instead, he felt regret for allowing his friend to take the fall on his own.
Dan believed he was just as responsible as Clint for the sub-par 2008 season and the poor start in 2009. Plus, he had privately told himself he would step down as GM at the end of 2009, figuring after 10 years on the job he would be ready for a new challenge. Why not keep that commitment and own his part in the team’s poor performance at the same time?
“I felt like I should have walked out the door with him, and I didn’t have the courage to do that as a leader,” Dan said. “I was scared. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know how I was going to feed my family. I didn’t have … the freedom to make that decision.”
Frankly, when I invited Clint and Dan to join me on Off the Rak, I was pretty excited to hear their stories about the World Series run with the Rockies and Clint’s years as manager of my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates.
Those topics and others came up, and they were great. But what I’ll remember most is how Dan responded to the subtle call of an opportunity to share his heart. He knew he had missed an opportunity to support his friend years ago, but this time he didn’t let the yawning cat go back to sleep. He opened a window into his soul because that’s what leaders do.