My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.
- Henry Ford
As the midsummer All Star game approaches, I am reminded of a story about one of the all-time baseball greats, Babe Ruth. His bat had the power of a cannon, and his record of 714 home runs remained unbroken until Hank Aaron came along. The Babe was the idol of sports fans, but in time age took its toll, and his popularity began to wane.
Finally the Yankees traded him to the Braves. In one of his last games in Cincinnati, Babe Ruth began to falter. He struck out and made several misplays that allowed the Reds to score five runs in one inning. As the Babe walked toward the dugout, chin down and dejected, there rose from the stands an enormous storm of boos and catcalls. Some fans actually shook their fists.
Then a wonderful thing happened. A little boy jumped the railing, and with tears streaming down his cheeks he ran out to the great athlete. Unashamedly, he flung his arms around the Babe’s legs and held on tightly. Babe Ruth scooped him up, hugged him, and set him down again. Patting him gently on the head, he took his hand and the two of them walked off the field together.
The story of the Babe serves as a reminder of the power of loyalty as seen through the innocence of a child. Not deterred by the advantage of having years to watch Ruth’s game decline, the young boy still esteemed Ruth as the baseball great he had been, not for what he had become in his twilight years.
Through the eyes of an unnamed boy come principles of loyalty and compassion that can empower leaders for greater service. The most effective means by which to empower your team and solidify your leadership skills comes down to understanding these three simple lessons.
In success you gather a following. When the Babe was on top of his game; cranking out home runs and winning titles, it was easy to be on his bandwagon. Success is like that. Everyone likes a winner. Irving Berlin said, “The toughest thing about success is that you’ve got to keep on being a success. Talent is only a starting point in business. You’ve got to keep working that talent.”
While it is normal to understand how loyalty is built in times of success, true loyalty is manifest during the down times. It is just human nature, be it in sports, or business, to pull for a winner. Loyalty and goodwill is built in the good times, but as Berlin said, you’ve got to keep working that talent.
In failure you gather your friends. While fans may be fickle, your friends will be with you to the end. Babe Ruth achieved a level of success that others in the game would envy. His fans were treated to an era of the game that was truly inspiring. Yet, in the sunset of his career, he was heckled.
Somerset Maugham said, “The common idea that success spoils people by making them vain, egotistic, and self-complacent is erroneous; on the contrary, it makes them, for the most part, humble, tolerant, and kind. Failure makes people cruel and bitter.” Maugham’s observation is spot on with regard to how Ruth embraced the little boy who emerged from the stands. Instead of brushing him aside, Ruth kindly embraced him, and held his hand as they walked off the field.
Someone once said, “Loyalty is faithfulness, and effort, and enthusiasm. It is common decency plus common sense. Loyalty is making yourself part of an organization-making it part of you.” This is a proper understanding of loyalty’s high and noble calling. Cling to it during the good times and lean on it during the down times, but never underestimate the power of it.
In humility you garner admiration. Whether as one of the most beloved baseball players of all time, or the leader of your organization, serving in humility is an indispensible quality of leadership. In the good times and bad, humility will be an endearing quality recognized and rewarded by those close to you.
John Rusk eloquently said, “I believe that the first test of a truly great man is humility. I do not mean by humility, doubt of his own power. But really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not in them, but through them. And they see something divine in every other man and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.”
Serve in humility, keep your friends close, and enjoy the journey. As you do, you will be the leader others will always cheer for.
© 2010 Doug Dickerson