David “Big Papi” Ortiz’s Timeless Leadership Lessons

COV_BigPapi(5)From the Boston Globe to USA Today to SportingNews.com, writers across the country are paying tribute to David “Big Papi” Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox (my home town team) for his on-the-field heroics.  At age 37, Big Papi is tearing up the MLB’s best pitchers and as one scribe reports, is “turning back the clock.”  And never at a loss for words, the Sox slugger responds with just the right hint of humility: “I’m the dinosaur here.”

That’s just Big Papi being Big Papi.

The fact of the matter is that Ortiz is anything but a dinosaur.  He’s a player a few scouts said was on the decline just a couple of years ago.  But he’s also a player who since then has essentially reinvented himself by making the training room his off-season home, by burning off his love of the good life by running laps in the park, and by turning to a healthier diet … and then by letting his bat do the talking on the field.

This week, Ortiz is leading his team to (hopefully) its third World Series championship in 10 years. But it’s not only his behavior on the field that has earned him leadership status. It’s also what he says and does off the field, whether it be in the club house with his teammates, in the training room building strength, in front of the cameras talking to fans after a game, or his off-camera work with charities, that make him a role model for corporate leaders.

Here are four Big Papi traits execs sitting in mahogany row can learn from:

Lead by example.  Big Papi doesn’t just talk about wanting to win.  He properly prepares and rehearses to flawlessly execute his plan.  He works harder than most to be the very best at his job and when he sees his skills beginning to deteriorate, he goes back to drawing board (the batting cage in his case).  He never asks his teammates to work harder than he’s willing to.  He simply sets the bar and then hurdles it.  Simple.

Leaders as change agents who inspire.    First a leader has to be trusted by his/her employees (or team).  It’s the same with customers. Customers trust people and not necessarily companies.  It’s only when trust is established that a leader can become a change agent.  Remember how the Red Sox responded in game four of the World Series following Big Papi’s inspirational dugout pep talk mid-game?  “David Ortiz rallied us together,” said teammate Johnny Gomes following the Red Sox win.

Strong leaders choose their words carefully.  Great leaders understand the power of their words and their tone.  A CEO addressing a struggling organization at a company meeting can galvanize or demoralize the troops.  A confident “we will overcome these challenges together and here’s the plan” delivery always trumps a punitive one.  Last April 20, on the heels of the Boston Marathon bombings, Big Papi “unofficially” reclaimed the City of Boston for its residents with his famous Boston Strong speech at Fenway Park. He delivered the right words with the right tone at just the right time.

Great leaders wear their passion on the outside for all to see.  Steve Jobs.  Tony Hsieh.  Jeff BezosRichard Branson.  CEOs known for their passion.  Name a professional baseball player who loves (and has as much fun) what he does as much as David Ortiz?  His passion, like that of Jobs and others, is absolutely contagious.

Any ideas for other Ortiz leadership traits that corporate leaders should emulate?

Go Sox!

1 thought on “David “Big Papi” Ortiz’s Timeless Leadership Lessons

  1. Ortiz is the benchmark for agility and adaptiveness. As you mentioned, pundits have more than twice written Ortiz off. But, because he has kept his mind open and agile he has repeatedly seen what he must do and was adaptive enough to do it.
    He is, without question, a leader and a first round Hall of Fame inductee.

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