Let me apologize in advance, but today I’m going to write about the Chicago Cubs. On Saturday night, the Cubs clinched a trip to the World Series by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0. It’s the first World Series trip for the Chicago baseball franchise since 1945. The 71-year drought had been the longest current streak in major league baseball. I considered waiting to write about the team until after the World Series, but being a Cubs fan, I was afraid I might be too distraught to write about them then. I’ve been disappointed before, so I decided to seize the opportunity.
But before you dismiss this as a self-indulgent sports piece by a lifelong fan, please do me the courtesy of reading a bit more because I believe that in their victory, the Cubs have demonstrated some great lessons we can learn from and use as employees, managers, and leaders:
Success follows when you put the team above yourself. I’ve marveled at this Cubs team as they seem to have put egos aside to pursue a goal—a World Series championship—that has eluded the franchise for 108 years. That’s right, the Cubs organization has not claimed the top prize in the sport since 1908! Yet at a time when so many athletes care only about themselves and their next contracts, this group of players seems to have put the team’s success above their own.
Let me give you an example. Ben Zobrist, who at 35 years old is one of the veterans on a team filled with 20-somethings, was the team’s starting second baseman this year. But as the playoffs started, the manager, Joe Maddon, decided to move Zobrist to left field to make room for 23-year-old Javier Baez. Zobrist didn’t object. You never heard a word of complaint or even a hint of controversy surrounding the move. Zobrist and the team embraced the change, and Baez ended up the co-MVP of the National League championship series. It wasn’t about Zobrist; it was about the team.
This may not sound like a big deal, but in today’s sports world, it seems very rare to me. The team chemistry the Cubs appear to have is an incredible contributor to their success.
A healthy respect for others. This Cubs team seems to have a genuine respect for one another, their manager, the fans, and even the umpires. In their victory the other night, one player after another talked about how loyal the fans had been and how much they appreciate their support. They paid respect to a group of people who had, collectively, waited 71 years for a chance to see their team in the World Series.
But nothing demonstrated the respect the Cubs players have for the game and those around them than the actions of Anthony Rizzo last Wednesday night. Rizzo thought he had been thrown ball four and been issued a walk. So he tossed his bat and started down to first base only to learn that the pitch had been called a strike and he was out. When he returned to the batter’s box for his next at bat, he didn’t glare at the umpire or criticize the call. Instead, he apologized. Yes, you read that right. Anthony Rizzo apologized for his behavior, telling the umpire that he didn’t mean to show him up.
Doing the right thing, even in the heat of competition with so much riding on every action, is the right thing to do. Rizzo did the right thing, and it speaks to his character and the environment the Cubs have created in Chicago.
Leadership matters. Cubs Manager Joe Maddon led this team to 103 wins this season—the most by any team in the major leagues this year. The players have responded to his low-key, often quirky leadership. One of the things Maddon preaches is consistency. When the Cubs fell behind the Dodgers two games to one, Maddon and the Cubs didn’t panic. In losing games 2 and 3 to the Dodgers, they had gone 21 innings without scoring a run. But Maddon didn’t change his approach. He didn’t reinvent his strategy. He stuck with what had helped his team win 103 regular season games and had gotten them this far into the playoffs. And that consistency paid off as the Cubs won the next three games and now advance to the World Series.
People look to their leaders, especially when times get tough. If the manager is panicking or doesn’t know how to respond to adversity, then he’s not providing the leadership necessary to be successful.
The Chicago Cubs may not win the World Series this year, but they’ve demonstrated to me that they are a winning organization. After years of mediocrity and futility, they have built an organization the right way. They have assembled a group of individuals who are working together as one. They have great team chemistry, they have a healthy respect for one another and those around them, and they have a leader the players respond to. Even if they don’t win the World Series, it looks a lot like success to me!