Everything I Needed to Know about Leadership I Learned Umpiring Youth Baseball

I’ve got a little one playing 7-8-year-old baseball. They hit off of a pitching machine. They are improving. That is fun to see. The umpiring is not improving. There’s no use in getting upset about it. If well paid professional referees can miss a call that alters the chance for the Super Bowl, then teenagers making minimum wage are going to miss some calls. I would be willing to take up for them a little more if they would at least take their hands out of their pockets and appear to want to be making their $10 or whatever it is.

Watching these umpires takes me back to my high school and college days when I spent my summers umpiring youth baseball. I hope I was better than these guys I am seeing today. I have often said that umpiring helped me become a pastor and a leader.

With apologies to the great little book, All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum, I offer “Everything I Needed to Know about Leadership I Learned Umpiring Youth Baseball.” Well, maybe not everything, but a lot.

As a Leader . . .

  1. You cannot play favorites. Teams demand fairness. Those you lead will expect fairness.
  2. You are not going to be liked by everyone. Close calls upset people. Difficult decisions upset people. Close calls are viewed through the lens of your team’s perspective. Difficult decisions as a leader are seen through personal bias.
  3. You quickly realize that some calls are really close. In umpiring, these close calls are called “bang/bang.” As a leader, you get some “bang/bang” decisions.
  4. You are going to make some mistakes. Enough said.
  5. You have to make a call. Umpires don’t get the option to delay a call or not make a call. The same is often true for leaders.
  6. You must get help when you need help but from the right people. Umpires call this “getting together.” Perhaps one umpire had a better angle than another. Leaders are not afraid to get help when they need it, but then have to own the decision as their own.
  7. You must keep things moving. The role of the umpire is sometimes to just keep the game moving. They want players hustling in and out of the dugouts. They keep coaches from spending too much time giving instructions so as to delay the game. Leaders learn how to keep things moving.
  8. You must learn that some people are going to argue with you about everything. Know this, as a leader, but never start the argument. Umpires get themselves in real trouble when they invoke the argument. Leaders should learn from them.
  9. You must always consult The Book. Umpires have a rule book. As Christian leaders, we have a rule book—the Bible. The Book has the final say!
  10. You must resist the temptation to be persuaded by the voices from the other side of the fence. As a young umpire, this was the toughest part of the job. The voices on the other side of the fence argued. They called me names. They accused. They were sure of things that I was equally sure of the opposite. In that moment, I had to learn which voice to listen to. Really, I was learning who I was going to please and what I was willing to do to please them. Really what was happening was that God was teaching me to be a leader.