I tweeted the other day to see if you guys had any questions that I could explore on the blog. This was the most interesting/challenging tweet I received...
It really got me thinking of my interactions and observations of some of the most talented players that I've had the pleasure of running into during my career. I was able to narrow the list of characteristics down to 3 main points of preparation. I'll explore each of these with an example from the most talented guys I've encountered.
1. The most talented prepare by asking questions first.
As I mentioned in my previous post, we had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Mets pitcher, Miguel Batista. He talked to us for about 45 minutes about his journey through the major and minor leagues. The man has played for somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 major league teams for the last 17 years. He recounted his conversations with greats like Maddux, Glavine, Schilling, Johnson etc. I was intrigued most, not by the content of pitching knowledge, but at his ability to ask the important questions to the right people. Because of his willingness to learn and his humility, he was able to methodically pick the brains of multiple hall of famers, and thus improve his game dramatically. He said, "I am constantly learning that I don't know things." What a great way to live! Miguel realized that before he could prepare to be great, he needed to know what things to work on and the best way to work on them. It takes a level of humility that few leaders have these days but that should be prized by all. As the Boosterthon team teaches me every offseason, leaders are learners. That's a principle that crosses industries and cultures, and one I hope to develop all my life.
2. The most talented prepare in the same way every time regardless of context.
In college I would under prepare for tests in classes that I didn't care about. Art History, Introduction to Physics, Badminton. These classes didn't count toward my Major GPA, which is what counts toward grad school. I figured it didn't matter whether I got a B or an A...in truth it didn't. But it did have some negative effects on other studying habits. When it came to preparing for tests or presentations in classes that DID matter, I hadn't prepared myself to succeed. Because the context had changed, so did my stress level. I became anxious about how much I "should" study and whether it was gonna be enough or not. Had I prepared well in all of my classes regardless of context, I wouldn't be worried about the big tests as opposed to the small ones.
The perfect example of this in baseball is Johan Santana. I've seen him throw a handful of bullpens all in different contexts. I've seen him throw a rehab bullpen, a pre-game (minor league) bullpen, a pre-game (big league) bullpen, and a normal in-between-starts bullpen. One would think that a former Cy Young winner and perennial all star could afford to take it easy for a minor league or rehab game, but that isn't the case with Johan. If you didn't know what field he was playing on, who his audience was, or who was in the opposing line-up you would never be able to tell the difference in bullpen routines. He is an up-beat guy with a smile on his face at all times. But when he steps on that rubber to begin his bullpen there is a stoic resolve from pitch 1 to 35. I truly believe this consistency in preparation has enabled him to succeed in a plethora of different scenarios. Prepare like every meeting is a meeting with your biggest client. If you do, you'll never under deliver with the small clients and you won't stress when the big ones enter the room.
3. The most talented prepare ferociously everyday to improve their weaknesses.
Talent is one thing. Everyone has some level of talent in some area. Leaders are typically good at making the most of their talents. The most talented leaders, however, work ferociously to improve themselves in areas of weakness. It's much less fun to do things you're bad at, but unless you're comfortable with being bad at something forever, you must work hard at it.
Enter Mark Cohoon. Going into his second season of professional baseball he was already a good pitcher. His command was very good and his stuff was at least major league average. It could've been easy for him to rest on his talents, but he didn't. He realized that as a lefty he had a weapon that he didn't know how to use...the Pick Off Move. A coach told Mark that he could conceivably get 2-3 free outs per game if he could improve his pick off move. Knowing an extra inning per start could add up throughout a season, Mark decided he would work on improving his move. Everyday he would go out after practice was over and do 20-30 pick offs. It took him a maximum of 15 minutes, but his concentration and focus was ferocious. 15 minutes a day for a month and a half finally paid off. Cohoon now has one of the best pick off moves in baseball, not only giving him free outs, but effectively shutting down the opposing running game. He continues to practice his move everyday...but now he practices it as a strength.
"Good is the enemy of great" - Jim Collins
If you're content to be weak at certain things with no effort to change, "good" is as good as it gets. The most talented leaders know this and try ferociously to turn weaknesses into strengths everyday.
I hope this has been as helpful to you as it has been for me. Thanks for the great question, Chris!
What are some of the preparation characteristics you have seen in the most talented leaders in your field?