Something incredible happened during the historic Game 7 of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians.
It rained enough that the officials decided that it was necessary to delay the game until the showers passed. But the story is much deeper than the fact there was a 17-minute rain delay. The story unfolds in how the Chicago Cubs players used that time to remember who they were, how they got there and why they deserved to win.
It was the bottom of the 8th inning and the Cubs had just blown a three-run lead with all of the momentum shifting to the Indians’ favor. The Cubs’ incredible season was on the line: 103 games won, National League champions, and overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the World Series. Now they were feeling the pressure of 108 years of fans’ hopes and dreams once again slipping away…
As the Cubs team walked from the dugout toward the locker room to wait out the delay, Jason Heyward called his teammates into a weight-training room for a player’s-only meeting. No coaches. No front office personnel. Just 25 players with all of their thoughts and emotions gathered together.
Cubs manager, Joe Maddon wasn’t aware of Heyward’s decision to call a players-only meeting.
“I walked off the field, the rain delay. It’s crazy how things happen for a reason. I don’t know. But I walk off and I see them all gathering in that little room down below there, and they had a meeting. And I’m upstairs just checking out the weather map.”
That’s when Jason Heyward addressed his team. Not known to be a vocal leader, his words at that moment carried the weight of the situation the team found itself in. Even more remarkable, Heyward had struggled all season to live up to the high expectations of the team and its championship-starved fans. But he didn’t let that stop him from stepping up to say what was on his mind.
With his teammates surrounding him, Heyward looked around the room, asserting that every single one of them had played a part in bringing the Cubs to this point. Veterans. Rookies. MVP’s. He told them they had everything they needed to win as long as they believed in each other and played for one another.
“I told them I love them. I told them I’m proud of the way they overcame everything together. I told them everyone has to look in the mirror, and know everyone contributed to this season and to where we are at this point. I said, ‘I don’t know how it’s going to happen, how we’re going to do it, but let’s go out and try to get a W.’”
He later explained to ESPN, “It was starting to rain and I was like, ‘They’re going to pull the tarp and we need to get together and have a meeting.’ Just needed to let these guys know they’re awesome. Don’t get down. I just wanted them to remember how good they were, how good we are. Know how proud of them I was and that I loved them. That I meant it from the bottom of my heart.”
“He spoke up and said this is about your teammates,” David Ross said. “He just said, `We’re the best team in baseball for a reason. Continue to play our game, support one another. These are your brothers here, fight for your brothers, lift them up, continue to stay positive. We’ve been doing this all year so continue to be us.’”
As Heyward looked around the room, he could see the mood shift and sense a new determination in his teammates.
Players described the emotion in that room during the brief meeting. “It was a great message,” Ross said, “and well said.”
By the time Heyward was finished speaking, several of the Cubs were in tears. Addison Russell freely admitted he was one of them, feeling a weight lift as Heyward encouraged the Cubs to be the team they’ve been all season rather than trying too hard to something new in the last game of the season.
“He just wanted to get everyone together and remind us that we’ve been picking each other up since Day 1,” Addison Russell said. ” We reached new levels. Grown men talking about that stuff, it doesn’t happen. The fact we did it here in the World Series, I really respect everyone for that.
I hate meetings,” Maddon said. “I’m not a meetings guy. I love when players have meetings, I hate when I do. So they had their meeting and the big part of it was, we don’t quit. We don’t quit.”
There are dozens – if not hundreds – of take-aways from the 2016 World Series. There’s material to write entire books. Here are a few things that we can learn from the Cubs and their historic postseason run.
1. Seize the Moment
What if struggling slugger Jason Heyward, the man who gathered the team in the visitor’s weight room for a players-only meeting… the man who struggled throughout the postseason to hit… what if his confidence was so shaken by the criticism he faced that he didn’t have the courage to lead… would the Cubs still have won? Heyward seized the moment. He recognized an opportunity to step up and rally his team. And that decision changed the course of history for the organization and for millions of fans around the country.
2. Take Advantage of Opportunities
Any organization faces delays from time to time. Perhaps it’s due to weather issues, especially if you’re involved in construction. Maybe it’s due to restructuring or contract negotiations. Regardless of the reason, there’s an important lesson: take advantage of this opportunity to keep working.
During down times, average employees relax. They “go with the flow” and coast through the day(s) comfortable with the knowledge that their paycheck will still come on Friday. They’ve fallen into a pattern that is difficult to break where they continue doing the same thing, while dreaming of better things. They say things like, “Hey, it pays the same,” and “They don’t put extra effort into me so why should I put extra effort into them.”
But top performers realize that this break gives them an opportunity to accomplish things that they may not ordinarily get to do. They look forward to being able to drive a project forward, partner up with other top performers on a new initiative, and work to solve problems they face. They don’t take this time off, they utilize it to grow.
3. Remember Why
Chicago had led the entire game, at one point extending the lead to 4 runs. It seemed that each time that Cleveland threatened, the Cubs found a way to respond. But with 2 outs in the bottom of the 8th inning, the game changed with one swing. The Indians’ Rajai Davis hit a home run to even the score at 6. Cubs fans were devastated. Indians fans were elated. And the Cub nation feared that 108-year championship drought was going to extend another year, decade…century.
That’s what made Heyward’s moment so special. He reminded his teammates who they were, how they made it to the World Series, and why they deserved to win. The 2016 Cubs were a team of destiny. They won 103 games. They faced numerous challenges throughout the season. They had already overcome a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven World Series. This was their moment.
He told them how proud he was to have them as teammates, that he loved them, was proud of them. Moments like that are rare. And that’s what makes them so special.
The next time you’re facing challenges in your organization – and you will – remember the example of Jason Heyward. Be the one with the courage to step up and help your team remember Why.
4. Great Leaders Know When to Get Out of the Way
One of the great lessons in this example came from the club’s manager, Joe Maddon. It’s no wonder that the players love, trust and respect their ‘skipper.’ Maddon didn’t try to force his way into the meeting. He didn’t ask what they were doing. He shrugged it off as, “I’m not a meetings guy. I love when players have meetings, I hate when I do.”
He understood that his role in that moment was to stay out of the way. It’s part of the culture he helped create on the team: trust each other, do the right things, believe you’re worthy, speak from the heart, expect greatness, hold each other capable to your goals.
5. A Strong, Sustainable, Vibrant Culture Wins Championships
Your business may not be competing for world championships, but it is competing. And there’s more on the line than a trophy. People’s lives are at stake. Their financial health. Their physical health. Their emotional health. That’s why high performing companies have been leading the curve by creating a high performance culture, knowing that they have a responsibility and obligation to their most valued asset – their team.
When Theo Epstein joined the Cubs organization in 2011 as the President of Baseball Operations, his goal was to ‘Establish an environment where young players could continue to grow and feel support, and where they could learn how to be big leaguers, and where they could learn how to win.’ That vision required another decision to change managers – the 3rd in 4 years.
Sometimes creating a winning culture requires some very tough decisions with personnel and organizational structure. At the time they may not make sense, but when trust in shared vision, mission and values, amazing things can happen.
A Silver Lining
The next time you’re faced with your own rain delay, perhaps you’ll have a new perspective on it. Perhaps you’ll be inspired by the World Champion Chicago Cubs to seize the moment and potentially change the course of your future.