You Make the Call

Lessons in Leadership and the Three Umpires

This is one of my all-time favorite stories. Three umpires (baseball, for our international readers) were talking about how they make calls on each pitch.

The first umpire said: “There’s balls and there’s strikes, and I call them like they is.”

Umpire number two said: “No, there’s balls and there’s strikes, and I call ’em like I see ’em.”

But it’s umpire number three that I like. He said: “There’s balls and there’s strikes, but they ain’t nothin’ until I call them.”

The Third Ump

What sets umpire number three apart? First, he understands that distinguishing a strike from a ball is fundamentally a judgment call. Television’s K-zone aside, it’s his job as the umpire to set a strike zone, to watch the pitches and declare where each pitch sails: inside, outside, high, low, or right down Broadway.

Second, he knows the integrity of the game depends on his certainty in his calls. The pitches really aren’t anything until he makes his pronouncement, and he has the courage of his convictions.

Lessons in Leadership

And how does the third umpire tie into leadership? A good leader does the following:

  1. Knows that a lot of decisions are in fact judgment calls, and is willing and able to make them – command presence.
  2. Provides clear and concise direction.
  3. Demonstrates passion and yes, courage of her or his convictions.
  4. Sets a fair and consistent “strike zone” and applies that to everyone.

The third ump, or the good leader, isn’t arrogant, non-collaborative or deaf to others. The good leader is willing to take on the tough responsibility of setting priorities, being clear in direction and demonstrating the passion to get others believing in the vision.

PS: For a great real-life story of courage and leadership, read Mike Myatt’s great piece.

3 replies
  1. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    “Second, he knows the integrity of the game depends on his certainty in his calls. The pitches really aren’t anything until he makes his pronouncement, and he has the courage of his convictions…The third ump, or the good leader, isn’t arrogant, non-collaborative or deaf to others. The good leader is willing to take on the tough responsibility of setting priorities, being clear in direction and demonstrating the passion to get others believing in the vision.”

    and when they’re wrong and others inside and/or outside the organization suffer….what then?

    Not unlike the bad call last year that cost a pitcher a perfect game. The ump immediately admitted he blew the call, apologized immediately afterwards to the pitcher and took the heat.

    There are those umps and leaders who don’t or won’t. It’s not always a level playing field vis-a-vis integrity. Errors, I guess.

    Reply
  2. Sandy Styer
    Sandy Styer says:

    Peter: Errors – you’re right. And leaders who act with more or less integrity. It’s always a shining example when we see it. The big question for me: are we taught integrity? If so, how? Are we born with it?

    Reply
  3. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    “The big question for me: are we taught integrity? If so, how? Are we born with it?”

    Sandy, my take is that like all soulful, essential qualities (love, compassion, honesty, courage, will etc.), we are born with it. Then, it it either reinforced or eroded – first by our parents or primary care-givers, then family members, relatives, teachers, clergy, friends, the workplace, the playground, media…and the like.

    We never actually lose it (or those other qualities); rather it’s like a light bulb that has gathered dust; it’s there, but occluded.

    Life presents us with opportunities to “see the light,” to act in integrity (or will, strength, love, compassion…) and then it’s all about the life choices we make.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *