Mistakes happen – focus on tasks at hand

Sometimes sports stories offer good examples for daily life. Four stories shed light on putting mistakes behind you, so you can focus on the tasks at hand.

Orel Hershisher was a successful pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. While he looks more like a Sunday school teacher, this devout man was as tough a competitor as you could find. He had a knack for not letting mistakes get to him. He said in his biography he set out to throw a perfect game and after the first hit, he would try to throw a one-hitter and so on. One of his more significant achievements is setting a record for not allowing a run for 59 consecutive innings of play.

Years before the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series breaking a 108 year drought, they stood on the brink of going to the series with one more playoff victory. With their opponent, the Florida Marlins, rallying in game six of their 2003 playoff, the hitter hit a foul fly ball that was just inside the stands. The left fielder had a chance to catch the ball by reaching into the stands. A fan did what many do and tried to catch it, so he prevented the Cubs player from catching it. The player demonstratively berated the fan, the crowd booed and the Cubs pitcher and players came unglued and they lost their cool and the game. It carried over and they went on to lose the next game losing the playoff series.

The New York Yankees had a pitcher by the name of Allie Reynolds, who the players called the Big Chief as he was he was a stoic and fierce competitor. He was throwing a no-hitter and the famous Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters ever, was possibly the final out. Williams popped up a pitch and Hall of Famer catcher Yogi Berra settled underneath the foul ball…and then dropped it and fell down. Helping Berra to his feet, a tired and anxious Reynolds was kind: “Don’t worry Yogi, we’ll get him next time.” Williams popped up the next pitch and Berra squeezed it for the final out.

How you react to mistakes or a crisis is important. A great leader can be judged by how he or she handles a crisis. The leader’s calm and reassuring demeanor can make the difference as others will follow suit. Reynolds and Hershisher understood that. The Cubs pitcher and players did not and affected their behavior.

After mistakes happen, the best we can do is to focus on the tasks at hand. Preparation and practice helps a great deal in handling stress. The great basketball coach Bobby Knight was asked why he did not call time out at the end of a close game his team won. He said he knew his team was more prepared, so he did not want to give the other team a chance to do so. In one national championship game, one of his players Keith Smart hit the final basket after their opponent, Syracuse missed a free throw, and Knight just let his team play without a timeout.

So, following their lead, prepare and practice for tests, speeches, meetings, interviews, etc. Mistakes will happen, so don’t react too negatively and focus on the tasks at hand. And, thank goodness for erasers and delete keys.

Oops…that would be me

We are an imperfect lot and there are times when things just don’t go our way. As a 59 year-old, I have had my share of faux pas or as I call them “oops.”

When I was ten, I was a pretty fair baseball  player and would pitch on occasion. After putting a fence around our outfield, every hitter wanted to be the first to hit one over it. Unfortunately, the pitcher on the throwing end of that homer would be embarrassed – oops, that would be me.

I have often said God has a sense of humor to keep us humble. While playing golf with some attorney friends, I had the good fortune to birdie a long par five, something I don’t often do. Walking to the next tee full of confidence, I tee my ball up and proceed to whiff with my swing. That means I did not make contact with the ball – oops, that would be me.

Each October in the US, we honor women  who have been challenged by breast cancer. A colleague of mine led efforts to have mobile mammograms for our female employees conducting over 11,000 detecting nine cancers. She was listening to me explain to someone about our specific efforts during “breast awareness month.” She said that would be “breast CANCER awareness month.” – oops, that would be me.

I have had to do a significant number of presentations and speeches over the years. In so doing, I have had far more than a few oops. Here are a few:

– Don’t wear a wool suit to speak, no matter how cold it is outside, as you will sweat bullets – oops, that would be me;

– Don’t number how many things you are about to say as you may forget one – oops, that would be me;

– Don’t reopen the presentation summary after the decision-maker makes the decision you were suggesting, as you just might unwind the decision – oops, that would be me; and

– Don’t forget to number the pages of your  speaker notes, as they can sometimes get mixed up – oops, that would be me.

The oops are too many to list. Beware of forwarding emails as there may be surprise emails not for public consumption at the bottom of email streams. Do not perpetuate reply all emails, be very judicious. Don’t communicate too aggressive a turnaround time if you don’t have to as you are setting yourself up for failure. Avoid being critical in email, do it in person or by phone if you cannot.

Oops happen. Take the time to review your work and prepare for meetings. And, when they do happen, say you are sorry and fix the problem. Then learn from your mistakes. Remember, God has a sense of humor, so it is OK to laugh along.