“In human affairs, the distance between the leaders and the average is a constant. If leadership performance is high, the average will go up. The effective executive knows that it is easier to raise the performance of one leader than it is to raise the performance of a whole mass. She therefore makes sure that she puts into the leadership position, into the standard-setting, the performance-making position, the person who has the strength to do the outstanding, the pacesetting job.”
—Peter F. Drucker
I am avid baseball fan. Growing up in New York state my idols were Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle of the Yankees. Joe’s father, Giuseppe, an Italian immigrant and a fisherman from San Francisco, could not understand his sons’—Joe, Dom and Vince—desire to play professional baseball. He thought it was crazy; better to stay with him in San Francisco and go into the fishing business. I thought about his father’s advice often as I looked at the sign in front of the old Yankee Stadium that read, “I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee: Joe DiMaggio.”
[EXPAND More]On May 15, 1941, DiMaggio started his record 56 consecutive-game hitting streak, a mark that may be the greatest in the game’s history. I was not alive for that record, but I did watch the grace of the man on the baseball diamond. He attempted to be perfect, and only once did I see him express frustration while playing. I always watched him after he hit a home run. He never looked at the pitcher, as to gloat; he always looked straight at the ground. His greatness and grace set a standard for his teammates, and many reached as high as they could to attain it.
That was certainly the case for Mickey Mantle, who replaced DiMaggio in centerfield. Mantle, a superstar in his own right, may ultimately be known best as the batter who followed Roger Maris in 1961 and entered what sportswriters’ called “the M&M race” to break Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a season. Maris batted third in the lineup, and Mantle batted fourth. That ensured that if a pitcher intentionally walked Maris, to try to deny him the record, he would have to face Mantle. Maris hit 61 home runs that year, and Mantle, who got hurt near the end of the season, ended up with a career-high 54 home runs. Most serious Yankee fans expected the great Mickey Mantle to break Babe Ruth’s record, not Roger Maris. But it was Maris who did because Mantle made him better.
Great leaders have a way of pulling others up. It happens in organizations all the time, just as Peter Drucker said. But to be great, one must be placed in the area of one’s strength. I suspect Joe’s father eventually got the point! We should remember that lesson when our children seem to have both a gift and passion for something we don’t particularly care for.