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Can You Do It?
April | 2012


Courageous Leadership

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Strengths Based Leadership Coaching

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Courageous Leadership

Can You Do It?

On Tuesday, August 28, 1945, just a few weeks past the end of World War II, two very different men reached an agreement that changed the face of one of America's most cherished institutions and contributed to what became the greatest human rights movement in our history.

On that day a scheduled meeting was held between Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers and a young African American baseball player named Jackie Robinson. Branch Rickey believed it was time for black baseball players to join the big leagues but knew that the who ever that was would have to be a lot more than a great athlete.

Jackie Robinson had already decided that he would do whatever it takes to be successful even before he went to meet with Branch Rickey. In 1941 he become the first athlete at UCLA to letter in four different sports and, following this achievement, he served in the military for four years. After the war, he played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League but was frustrated over the quality of ball played in that league. He searched for an opportunity to play in the Majors without much luck until he got a call from the Dodgers.

The meeting between Rickey and Robinson lasted over three hours. Branch Rickey already knew that Jackie was a great ballplayer but he was more interested in whether he could stand up to the indignations that he would face as the first black player in baseball.

"It's going to take more than hits, runs and stealing bases," Rickey told him. "They're going to shout insults and run into you with spikes on the base paths and they'll certainly be throwing pitches at your head."

Robinson shot back "They're already throwing the ball at my head and if you want a ballplayer who would fight back, then I can do that."

Rickey stared him down and told him "I want a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back. You've got to do this job with base hits, stolen bases and fielding ground balls, Jackie. Nothing else!"

Rickey went on grilling Robinson by asking him how he would respond to specific situations like a prejudiced reporter who writes a racist story about him or a fan who throws beer his way. Rickey even role-played a situation where a fellow competitor gets right in Jackie's face and takes a swing at him. "Mr. Rickey," Robinson said, I got two cheeks, that's it".

In Jackie's first year, 1947, many of the challenges that Branch Rickey predicted came true. The St. Louis Cardinal ball club threatened to strike, but were prohibited to do so by the Baseball Commissioner. During one of their games, one Cardinal player caused a 7 inch gash in Jackie's leg from 'flying spikes' delivered during a slide into second base, where Jackie played. Players, and even the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies pasted Jackie with racial invectives on their game days.

Rickey's and Robinson's idea of turning the other cheek wound up becoming the Dodgers greatest formula for success. Dodger team members, after initially harboring their own animosity towards him, saw that Jackie's great play would win games, bring in fans and provide them with fame and fortune. Pee Wee Reese, the very popular Dodger's shortstop told his teammates, "You can hate a man for a lot of reasons but color isn't one of them." One day in Cincinnati, when Jackie was getting his usual dose of racial slurs, Reese, went over to Jackie and put his arm around him and showed his support. The hatred spewed towards Jackie became a catalyst that brought the team together and led to a decade of winning games and winning hearts.

Jackie Robinson went on to a storied career as a man. As a ballplayer, he was named Rookie of the Year (in the inaugural year of that award), went to six World Series, was named to numerous All-Star teams, and was admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. After baseball, he was a successful businessman having opened an African-American owned bank in New York. He became the first black sports broadcaster on TV. Jackie Robinson was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by George Bush (41) in 1992. And in 1997, on the 50th anniversary of Jackie's breaking the color barrier in baseball, Major League Baseball officially retired number 42, meaning no future players will ever wear his number and his contributions to the game will be honored forever.

So what are the leadership lessons we can take from Jackie Robinson's story?

  • When someone in authority believes in you, believe in him or her. Jackie thought he should fight back, but when Rickey wanted him to turn the other cheek and he did it, it worked in his favor.
  • Courage is infectious and garners respect. Jackie helped change the world because his courage inspired other people's courage.
  • Focus on what you do best and just do that. Everything else will take care of itself. Jackie's focus on getting the job done won the support of his teammates.
  • Get yourself ready for your next opportunity, even though you cannot yet see the path to achieve it.

What are your leadership takeaways? Let us know on my Facebook page or Twitter feed.


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TED Talks

Four million viewers have checked out Brene Brown's presentation on vulnerability. A professor at the University of Houston, Brown has studied vulnerability and authenticity and how it relates to courage. If you've ever felt scared to be "out there", this presentation is for you and it will show you that you that as leader you may be in exactly the right place.


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Strengths Based Leadership Coaching

Richard is completing his third full year of Leadership Pittsburgh's Executive and Professional Coaching program for LP's program participants.

Richard's program delivers a three session "executive coaching experience" for senior leaders uses a strengths-based model for helping these senior leaders maximize their professional and leadership strengths to effect significant change in their organizations. Here are some of the comments past participants have said:

"I have a keener sense of the vision of our organization and where we need to go to achieve our mission. It has helped me tremendously in our strategic planning process and in managing my direct reports"

"It was immeasurable to me. Senior leaders don't often have the opportunity to reflect on their strengths. We rose to the top and people assume that we have all of the answers about leadership and we don't. This program shows me that it is okay to be at the top and still get help."

If you would like to have Richard come to your organization and speak to your team about strengths-based leadership and how you can use this model that has served so many leaders effectively just send a note to [email protected]


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