Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Sammy, why’d you do it?

Last night, I heard history as it was made. Sammy Sosa, of my beloved Chicago Cubs, hit an inconsequential ground ball to second base in an inconsequential game against the perennially inconsequential Tampa Bay Devil Rays. And the consequences were perhaps career-shattering for him and trust-damaging for the game of baseball.

His bat splintered when he hit the ball. And inside the bat, the umpire observed something dark, which turned out to be cork. It is highly illegal in baseball to have anything besides solid wood in your bat. How big is this news? Well, it even made the headlines on staid old NPR this morning.

Sosa, one of the most popular and respected baseball players of the last decade, committed the most grievous of offenses for a person in a leadership role. He damaged trust.

Trust is the most precious and most fragile of the qualities leaders possess. It is fragile because trust is given to leaders. They cannot demand it. Followers give trust to one they deem to be trustworthy. And they only deem one to be trustworthy if that person is both competent in his/her field and has character. Character is shown by doing what one says one will do.

By cheating, by using an illegal bat, by trying to get away with it, Sosa did not do what he has always claimed he did; that is play with skill and not with additives. He damaged trust.

What does this have to do with Lean? Leading a Lean transformation forces massive levels of change in an organization. This change will not happen unless the person leading the charge is trusted. The level of change is simply too severe for people to comply if they don’t have high trust in the leader. When the leader slips up and does not follow through on what s/he says s/he will do, trust is eroded and change slows down.

How do you avoid slipping up? Look at Sammy. In a news conference after the game, he claimed he simply “grabbed the wrong bat.” He said the corked bat was one he used only for batting practice. Maybe. This is a common practice; many players save their best bats for games. If this is the case, though, Sammy was stupid. Why not mistake-proof this process and color the knob on the end of the batting practice bat with a red marker? Make it visual!! Lean systems could have worked for Sammy, if his intent was truly to not use that bat in a game.

The serious Lean leader, one who is trusted, uses such lean systems to avoid breaches of trust. Sammy didn’t. And it will forever be a black mark on his marvelous career. All for one lousy, inconsequential ground ball.

I hope this is helpful....even if you don't like baseball.

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