Such is the life of the closer...and the leader. As I watched the above scenario unfold last night at Miller Park in Milwaukee (and as I was thinking about what I would write this morning), I was witnessing leadership in action. While much of the daily work of those in leadership positions is about planning, meeting, thinking, and executing, there come those moments where all eyes are on the one in charge, and the burden of "finishing the game" lays in one place. Here are a few thoughts on how leaders can navigate their role as "closer:"
- be prepared: there are very few scenarios a closer has not thought through. Though each situation is unique, each situation also calls for the same result. The closer knows ahead of time the players he will most likely face and knows what they can and cannot hit.
- live into the paradox of the moment: while the closer can prepare and simulate any given situation in their mind, they still do not know all of the exact circumstances they will face. The given reality of being fully prepared and being fully ready for anything new and different allows the leader to act upon the immediate situation they face.
- shut down outside voices: in a conversation once with Huston Street (a major league closer currently with the Los Angeles Angel), he told me that as he stands on the mound, he never even hears the crowd. The noise around leaders can be deafening at those big moments of decisions - learn to listen to the inner voice.
- rely on others to do their jobs: just as manager Joe Maddon made a defensive move and just as catcher Alex Avila called for the right pitches, the closer (and leader) knows that there are other people behind them to do the role for which they are prepared. Choosing (and training) the right people to have your back and then letting them do what they do best (especially in tough situations) is a key role of the leader.
- do the job you are asked to do: in these type of situations, paralysis of decision making can set in and keep the leader from doing her job. For the closer, there is no choice - throw the ball towards the plate and hope that the result you have been charged with actually happens. Leaders must make the hard decisions at times...because that's the job they have been asked to do.
- remember that tomorrow is another day: Most closers will have a blown save or two during the season, and will not lose their job because of those circumstances (too many blown saves and the role should quickly change). Good managers know to put their closer back on the mound quickly after a blown save to restore their confidence. Sometimes leaders get it wrong...and must be willing to get back into the game the next day, making difficult decisions again.
For those who were wondering...Wade Davis (closer for the Chicago Cubs) did get the final two outs of the inning, the Cubs scored two runs in the top of the tenth, and Davis went back to the mound and got three quick outs in the bottom of the tenth for what was an important win for my team. Go Cubs Go!