Monday, July 23, 2012

Big Leaguers Don't Add Sugar To Their Tea

Just to make things clear from the start, this essay has nothing specifically to do with whether major league baseball players should or should not put sugar in their iced tea; or in fact whether they should or should not drink iced tea at all.  This essay is in fact a tribute in a way to the marvelous, high performing company I have the pleasure to be part of and some recent learnings / stories that illuminate some drivers of that success.

As I mentioned above, I deeply feel fortunate to be part of the leadership team of my current company.  Broadly the organization is talented, focused, hard working and motivated by our mission to help people lead healthy vibrant lives …. a mission we call “Inspiring the Fresh Revolution” (more on that later.)  I always feel challenged and motivated by the team to push myself to “execute, excel and build skills” (see the previous essay by that title) and after 2 ½ years, my energy to do so continues.  One of my pleasures is the chance to work closely with a set of very talented peers and direct reports whom I learn from constantly. 

I was recently working late on a key project with one of my peers when somehow we got into a conversation about our hometowns and our times growing up.  We are both from small towns in western Pennsylvania (Go Steelers), and have been surprised by how many similar experiences we have shared over our education and careers.  One experience that I did not share was the same level of athletic success.  It turns out that this fellow was a very accomplished pitcher, having played Div. 1 baseball in college, and having been scouted hard by big league clubs.  He shared a story of from his youth that a major league scout (I think form our hometown Pittsburgh Pirates) had come to see him pitch in high school and had taken him and his family out to dinner after the game.  As they were sitting down, my friend reaches over to add sugar to his iced tea; the scout looks up and says “son, big leaguers don’t put sugar in their iced tea.”  He and I were sitting together late one night, here in the summer of 2012, and that one line of wisdom rang out from a dinner maybe 30 years ago.

As I mentioned above, my lesson from this story has nothing to do about the “sugar” or the “iced tea” explicitly.  It DOES remind me though that to be excellent, to achieve superior results, you need to stay focused on the big things AND the little things that will account for that success.  I am sure that that baseball scout had some things to say that night about pitching or about the expectations of a big league club, or a wide variety of topics on the “big things.”  What’s important to note is the power of that story about one of the “little things.”  I think he was saying that to be a success, sure you need a blistering fastball, a wicked curveball, a great move to first, etc….., but that’s not enough.  You also need to watch the little things, like getting to the ballpark early, taking batting/fielding practice every time you have a chance, helping the other young guys coming up, or maybe just passing on the sugar in your iced tea.

This idea resonates in the workplace dramatically to me.  Sure the big customer presentations, the new product rollouts, the board meetings, or any other “high profile” moment are important to handle well and to prepare for diligently.  What I am connecting to are the hundreds of”little things” that happen every day, all having a big impact.  I think about not just being on time for work, or a conference call, or a meeting, but working to be a few minutes early (rather than always a few minutes late.)  Or maybe it’s how you take care of your work vehicle, is it always ready to go, well stocked and cleaned and ready to roll at a moment’s notice?  Or maybe it’s taking an extra moment to check your work, or check your calculations, to insure that your efforts speak for themselves and doesn’t need anyone having to do a review for “clerical/analytical” errors.  This list could go on and on, but the point is simple.  Keep an eye on the “little things” of work and life, don’t reach for the sugar bowl for your iced tea, and your likelihood of success on the “big things” will rise automatically!