Being the Leader-in-Relief - Red Sox 1918

Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox on winning the 2004 World Series.

Why did the Red Sox win the World Series this year after so many years - 86 to be exact - of frustration. It is a product of focus, clearly understanding what it takes to win, execution and great starting pitching. It is a product of each player showing up to give their best.

The last time the Red Sox won the World Series was 1918. Winning the Series that year was not the only remarkable thing to happen. It is a story of relief pitching, but it is also a story of leading-in-relief.

Let me set it up this way. Let's put the leadership lesson of this story in a particular real life context. Your boss, who is your team leader, is injured in an accident. Her doctor said that she would be out at least six to eight months. You have to step in as the team leader. Your business is just entering your busiest time of the year. It is a high stress time. This is your first opportunity to lead. What do you need to do to be effective as a team leader? Leadership rises out of necessity. It isn't something planned for, but can happen.

Here’s a story I heard as a child that I still love today. Here is how Jonathan Brolin tells it.

“On June 23, 1917 the Washington Senators were in Boston to face the Red Sox. The starting pitcher for the Red Sox that day was Babe Ruth, who was on his way to his second consecutive 20-plus win season. The first batter facing Ruth, Ray Morgan, reached on a walk, but Ruth did not agree with umpire Brick Owens' call. Somewhere in between "Keep your eyes open" and "What did I do?" Ruth slugged Owens and was tossed from the game. Surely the Senators must have been relieved to have the great Ruth out of the game. Well, in came Ernie Shore, pitching on two days rest. … He promptly retired Morgan on a steal attempt; his day was just beginning. Shore proceeded to then retire 26 consecutive Senators' batters, pitching the only perfect game in relief in major league history.”

This happens in organizations all the time. You may not recognize it, because often the person who is acting as Leader-In-Relief is not looking for recognition. They are just doing their job. So what does it take to be a Leader-In-Relief. For Ernie Shore, it meant that he had to pitch just as well as All Star pitcher Babe Ruth. For most of us, it means that we need to have the skills to be effective in the potential roles we may have to play.

To be a Leader-In-Relief requires you to think more clearly and more comprehensively that you may have had to before. It also means that you have to be aware of how all the members of your team are performing. You have to decide for yourself what your expectations are for the team and for each individual. You have to not just talk about leadership. You have to lead. Since this is a temporary position, you have to recognize that your effectiveness is determined more by your own personal conduct than your ability to function as a command-and-control authority.This is a test of your character as a person.

Will you have the courage to make hard decisions?

Will you have the foresight to understand how to motivate the team to achieve higher performance?

Will you have the determination to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of superior achievement?

These are the kinds of questions that ultimately are answered as you grow into the role. We can all take heart from Ernie Shore’s performance. When called upon he was ready. When called upon to lead our teams, we need to be ready. No matter how many books on leadership you’ve read or seminars you’ve attended you will learn to lead by doing it. Therefore, approach this challenge with humility and openness to learn from your team members. If you can do that then you will do well as a Leader-In-Relief.