El Mago. The Magician.
Alcides Escobar, starting shortstop for the Kansas City Royals, earned his nickname for his prowess as a defensive player.
But in the Royals batting lineup, there seems to be something magical about putting Escobar in as the leadoff batter. No one can explain why it works, but when he’s positioned there the Royals win significantly more games.
There was also something magical about Escobar’s post-season performance. During the regular season, he was reliable. He was named to the American League’s All Star team. He made most sportswriters’ lists of “Top 10 Shortstops” in the game today. But in post-season, he exceeded the expectations set by those impressive accomplishments… resulting in an MVP award in the league championship series.
The magic, in my opinion, is equal parts athletic talent and leadership abilities. Plenty of others have already covered his athleticism, so this blog post aims to give due credit for the leadership example he set on the field in post-season play.
First, the back story that spotlights the athleticism and sets the stage for the leadership lessons.
In game one of the World Series, Escobar did something no one else has done since 1929. On the opening pitch of the first inning, he hit an in-the-park home run. One pitch, one hit, one run.
In the 14th inning of the same game, he got on base again. Thanks to his team’s strong offense throughout the inning, he made it home to score the winning run. He bookended the game with the first and fifth runs.
That wasn’t the only noteworthy accomplishment for Escobar in the post-season. He set a new record by getting a leadoff hit in each of the first four ALCS games (part of the reason why he batted .478 in that series). He swung at every first pitch, usually successfully, throughout the post-season. His double in the 12th inning of the fifth World Series game drove in a run that resulted (along with 4 other runs) in the Royals taking home the crown.
So what does Escobar’s performance have to do with leadership? These five lessons can be applied in any workplace or situation that calls for leadership.
1. Make a strong start. We are all called, at times, to be the leadoff hitter. Someone has to get things started. In any game, the beginning is difficult. The leadoff hitter sets the tone and can stir hope in the rest of the team while signaling confidence to the opposition. Escobar succeeded in doing both by stepping up to the plate with confidence. He wasn’t tentative. He didn’t wait for the second pitch so he could measure up the pitcher. Like Escobar, effective leaders step up and start strong.
2. Give just as much at the end as you did at the beginning. Escobar showed up in the field and at the plate in every inning of every game. He has one of the longest streaks for most consecutive games played. He made the plays early in each game, and he made the plays late in each game. He doesn’t take his foot off the gas. Likewise, winning leaders dedicate themselves to see things through from start to finish.
3. Rise to the occasion. Escobar’s performance surged in post season. Playing against the very best, this player improved at a time when his challenges were the greatest. The pressure was on, the competition was strong, and he rose to the occasion. By their example, leaders who perform under pressure inspire and encourage members of their team to do the same.
4. Rise above those who try to bring you down. In game 3 of the World Series, the Mets pitcher decided to thwart Escobar’s chances for connecting with the lead off pitch. He apparently couldn’t count on his own ability to throw an unhittable pitch so, instead, he threw the ball way up and inside, barely missing Escobar’s head with a 98 mph fastball. The pitcher later admitted that his strategy was to rattle Escobar and the Royals. Escobar’s response? He didn’t charge the plate. He didn’t trash talk the pitcher or issue retaliatory threats in post-game press conferences. He didn’t stop swinging at leadoff pitches. Instead, he and his team rose above the noise and went on to exact the best revenge possible. They kept their cool, and they won the World Series. Like this player and his team, leaders focus on the end goal and don’t get distracted by others’ attempts to take them off course.
5. Keep reaching for new goals. He became an All Star in regular season. He was named MVP in the ALCS. What more could Alcides Escobar want? How about a Gold Glove award? He set out in 2015 to earn this award, and earned it along with two of his teammates. (Congratulations Esky, Salvy & Hos! 2015 Gold Glove Winners announced 11/10/15.) Leaders don’t rest on their laurels. They challenge themselves to the outer limits and beyond, always striving for new standards of excellence.
As a leader, how fare can you reach? What can you do to become a Magician like Alcides Escobar?
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