Sunday, October 25, 2009

Leading Ladies in Leadership

ESPN’s Graham Hays wrote a story about a women’s softball game between two conference opponents back in 2008. The game was played between Western Oregon and Central Washington. Western Oregon won the game 4-2. Both schools compete as Division II softball programs in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. At first glance, this may sound like a routine game. The events that transpired that day were truly amazing.

Western Oregon senior Sara Tucholsky had never hit a homerun in her career. Tucholsky came to the plate in the top of the second inning of the second game with two runners on base. A part-time starter throughout her four years, she was the unsung player at the plate about to crush the ball over the center field fence for the first home run of her career.

Filled with emotion as she began rounding of the bases, Tucholsky missed the tag at first, reversed direction to tag the base, and then it happened. Her right knee gave out. Lying in agony from a torn ACL, Tucholsky tried to reach the bag.

Confusion about the rules temporarily left the outcome of her hit in doubt. Unable to continue under her own strength, would a substitute runner nullify the home run? Moments before making the decision to bring in a substitution, the unexpected happened.

Central Washington senior Mallory Holtman, the team’s home run leader, asked the officials if they could carry her around the bases. Holtman and shortstop Liz Wallace lifted Tucholsky off the ground and supported her weight between them as they carried her around the bases. They stopped at each base until they carried her across home plate into the waiting arms of her teammates.

As they crossed home plate, the crowd stood and cheered their incredible display of sportsmanship. Holtman and Wallace returned to the field and tried to win the game, but that play decidedly was the most memorable one of the game.

Leadership exploits show up in unexpected ways and are demonstrated by unsung heroes. The selfless acts of leadership exhibited that day give hope as we look at the leaders of tomorrow. Here are three reasons to be optimistic.

Leaders step up at the right time. The young ladies that carried Tucholsky around the bases had every reason not to do it. But they realized at the end of the day it was not about winning or losing a ball game, what they did was a random act of kindness.

The right time to step up is not necessarily dictated by circumstances, or when it is time to close a deal, or when a championship is on the line. Characters high calling to humility can be demonstrated in board rooms and on ball fields at any given time.

Leaders step up at the right place. The sportsmanship of Holtman and Wallace was remarkable. Everything that the team had worked so hard to achieve was on the line. Without prompting or coercion these ladies placed the team in a position that ultimately cost them the game, but set them apart as true leaders.

My belief is that the underlying principles of leadership were already in tact with these young ladies. A leader understands that her time to step up may come when least expected. Holtman and Wallace were in the right place at the right time and allowed their leadership to shine.

Leaders step up for the right reasons. Leadership is about seizing opportunities when presented. Tucholsky had never hit a home run in her career. Holtman held her school’s record for them. They could not have been further apart in terms of their respective abilities. Holtman knew what this home run would mean to her and thus offered to carry her around the bases. In leadership, being right is not as important as doing the right thing.

Western Oregon coach Pam Knox put the game in perspective saying, “It was such a lesson we all learned—that it is not all about winning. And we forget that, because as coaches, we are always trying to get to the top. We forget that. But I will never, ever forget this moment. It has changed me, and I am sure it has changed my players.”

The Western Oregon women’s softball team teaches us that whether in business, sports, or life in general, to get ahead you sometimes have to give up, and a greater victory comes when you give someone else a lift.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

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