Around the bases with Situational Leadership

Some people complain that baseball is slow. But if you contemplate every possible scenario between every play, it’s a miracle we ever finish a game.

With each pitch, hundreds of data points come together to form a plan for everyone on the field – pitcher, fielders, batter, runners. The successful anticipation of those scenarios and the response to the execution forms the basis for Situational Leadership.

Years ago, management gurus Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey formed their hypothesis for Situational Leadership. Their theory was that leadership is not one-size-fits-all. Everyone is different. It’s the leader’s responsibility to understand these differences, and lead accordingly.

What the study did not consider, however, was the situation. (Ironic, considering its name.) It’s not enough to understand the tendencies of your team members. You must take a 360-degree view of the situation.

Earlier this month in the Major League playoffs, Atlanta Braves pitcher Darren O’Day walked the first two St. Louis Cardinal batters. Conventional wisdom is for the Cardinals to bunt, thus moving both runners into scoring position. There was a problem. The next batter, Paul DeJong, had not bunted all year. He did, however, have 30 home runs. And he had an exceptionally high walk-rate against left-handed pitchers. O’Day is a leftie.

The Cardinals also had to factor in the speed of the base runners, Harrison Bader and Tommy Edman. They could advance easily on a sacrifice bunt. And in theory, isn’t that one of the easiest plays to execute?

Here, in one at-bat, Situational Leadership comes into play. Leaders must fully understand the strengths of each player. They must also consider the situation. Every game brings new scenarios. Cookie-cutter approaches don’t always work. Situational Leadership requires:

• Flexibility. Leaders and team members must be able to adapt to the moment.

• Courage. Most leaders stick to one way of doing things – whatever has worked in the past. The situational leader is not afraid to take chances if the situation demands it.

• Vision. It’s not just the play at hand. It’s how it affects the game three plays from now.

• Humility. The situational leader doesn’t know it all. They must accept limitations and responsibility.

A single would score one, a double would score two. After bunting one foul, DeJong took two, then swung. He flew out to left. The runners retreated and no one advanced.

Situational Leadership requires courage and risk-taking. It also takes humility.

Russ Florence is a partner at the consulting firm of Schnake Turnbo Frank.