In college at MIT, I played baseball for Coach Fran O’Brien. MIT hired Coach O’Brien in 1969. In the twenty seasons prior to Coach O’Brien’s arrival, MIT Baseball had one winning season. He inherited a Division-III, no scholarship, no recruiting team that expected to lose.
During my senior year in 1993, Coach led us to a record-setting, championship season that inspired many stories and my book Beaverball.
So how did Coach O’Brien prepare us to compete? One lesson that we learned as baseball players that applies to all of us as leaders and managers is the need to plan and communicate. We can put the team – our organizations – in better situations to win, to succeed, every day.
Leaders plan for and expect success.
The greatest menace to success and leadership may be the willingness to make excuses or may be the failure to take responsibility for one’s actions or even a tendency to feel victimized. Look, you’re going to get bad calls, bad bounces, bad weather. But we can plan for and expect success by focusing on and planning for what we can control, communicating that plan, and moving forward.
Think about it this way. Can you plan for failure? Yes, absolutely. Here’s a plan for failure:
- Stop returning your phone calls;
- Stop paying your bills;
- Smoke 12 packs of cigarettes per day; and
- Drive with your eyes closed.
Here’s another plan for failure: don’t have a plan.
So, if we can choose to fail, can we choose to succeed? Absolutely. Therefore, success should not surprise us.
Coach O’Brien always had a plan, and that rubbed off on the team. Before the season started, he scheduled every practice and every practice had a schedule of drills and every drill had small group assignments. Guys on the team did their own planning, too. House, our catcher, smoothed the dirt in front of and around home plate to reduce bad hops. Gass, our right fielder, preserved the shape of his glove by wrapping it in a towel between games.
And consider what we observe from other great leaders out in the world and close to home. Three time Super Bowl Champion and former Head Coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Bill Walsh, was well known for his meticulous planning to build championship teams. Bill Belichick now as Head Coach of the New England Patriots, and from his early days as a Coordinator, shares this trait. My best teachers and coaches had lesson plans, game plans and practice plans, and they adjusted these plans as we struggled or improved, or as the situations changed.
Coach O’Brien expected to win. And he expected us to expect to win. Success should not surprise you. If it does, you may attribute it to luck or to mistakes made by your competitors. Winning consistently is a byproduct of building teams focused on achieving goals, working the plan, communicating and reinforcing expectations, and getting after it.