The response was exciting — a definite “yes” to a proposal I’d put out there, something I’d pitched many times and racked up a pretty good track record getting participation for. As usual, I could have left well enough alone because I wasn’t thinking of anything more, but this time was different. This time, I had Theo Epstein whispering in my ear.
I’ve never thought of it before writing the previous phrase, but that’s exactly the benefit of all the ingesting (print and audio) of history books, biographies and other non-fiction tomes which comprise a good chunk of my daily life. Through such consumption, I get the benefit of many accomplished folks whispering in my ear, lurking around in the back of my brain, so that, hopefully, they break through the noise and catch my attention at the right time with just the right bit of wisdom.
And so it was with Theo: “Be bold,” he advised. “Don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t be afraid of being embarrassed.”
I picked up that nugget while listening to “The Yankee Years” by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci about the former’s years managing the team to four World Championships. One part of the book looks into the rise of teams which — since they couldn’t compete with the ‘Evil Empire’ on spending for players — sought out areas for an advantage. These areas included more intelligent recruiting/trading/drafting, better pre-habilitation (keeping players healthy rather than simply fixing ailments) and smart use of newly acquired revenue-sharing funds to be competitive.
When Epstein took over as general manager of the Boston Red Sox in 2002, he found a culture that was risk-averse, that would eschew going after big time players for fear of the negative press which might follow a failed effort. Epstein said that was enough of that. The Red Sox would live by the mantra of “Be bold;” they would go after the players they wanted, and let the chips fall where they may. If the result was some egg on their faces, so be it. It was easy enough to wipe off.
And so with such a message ricocheting around my brain, I decided to be bold, to take the ‘yes’ I had received from my request for participation and up the ante, to propose something bigger that I thought made a lot of sense and was compelling. Easy, right? Good for you, Anthony, right? Well, for those of you who’ve not left well enough alone, harken back to the mental gyrations, doubt and torment that occurs between firing off your “Well, if you like that, then how about this” email, and a response.
Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock.
- “I am so stupid!”
- “Why did I do that?”
- “Of course, he’s going to read this phrase the wrong way.”
- “I really blew it.”
- “Now he’s not even going to do the thing he’d agreed to.”
- “Why didn’t I just leave well enough alone?”
- “Damn you, Theo Epstein!”
A few days later another such dynamic occurred. All was quiet on the Western Front, but I thought that doing something (a specific something) was the right thing to do, needed to be done. So even though all was quiet, I did it. And again, after firing off the email I heard the tick, tock, tick, tock.
- “Why did I do that?”
- “What if it’s taken the wrong way?”
- “What if I just opened up a can of worms that was nice and shut?”
- “Why am I such a moron?!?!?!”
In both cases, I’m happy to report, my missives, my proposals, my communications, were not taken the wrong way, and were, in fact, received with as much enthusiasm as I could have hoped. But looking back, I find the post-proposal dynamic very interesting and instructive.
You are paid to make decisions, you are paid to be bold, to lead, to not leave well enough alone, to not not do things for fear of embarrassment. You are paid either because you don’t suffer the pangs of self-doubt described above or because you do BUT you don’t let them affect your decision making. I think most folks do feel that post-decision, pre-reaction anguish I did, no matter how sufficiently they gather opinions, facts, and deliberate, no matter how good the governance, no matter how sure of the chosen path forward. But the question is: can you stand it?
I always tell my children that being brave is the most important thing in the world, and then explain: “Being brave means doing what you have to do even when you’re scared.”
And remember, being brave, being a leader and making decisions that are of any consequence also means getting it wrong sometimes. But again, you cannot allow this to make you gun shy. Just like the greatest quarterbacks never let the last interception affect the next throw, so you must (except for extracting lessons learned) leave the past behind and move forward.
For my part, I’ll try to keep being bold, even after I get it wrong, because to borrow an apt baseball analogy, I’d always rather go down swinging.