On a recent trip I had the privilege of playing golf in Sedona, an Arizona desert town surrounded by red-rock buttes, steep canyon walls and pine forests. That particular day I was playing as a single and was matched up with three other golfers. On the first tee I was introduced to Jim, a fellow from Kansas City, and then to Bill and Jody from Boise, Idaho.
It didn’t take more than a few seconds for me to realize that the gentleman from Boise was in fact Bill Buckner, formerly of the Boston Red Sox. Baseball fans will know that he’s most famous for a mistake he made during the 1986 World Series.
A simple mistake
Boston was heavily favoured to beat the New York Mets when game six of the series went into extra innings. While playing first base Buckner failed to handle a softly hit ball that came towards him. Trying to rush the play because of the speed of the hitter, he let the ball roll to the left side of his glove, through his legs and into right field, allowing a base runner to score from second and win the game.
Ultimately the Red Sox went on to lose the World Series and Buckner faced enormous anger from fans and media alike. He was heckled at every ballpark thereafter and even faced death threats. His wife and children experienced vitriol from the Boston community, which ultimately led to them relocating to a ranch in Boise, Idaho, where life could carry on peacefully. And all of this because of a fielding error that every baseball player who’s ever played the game could have made.
It seems we are in a place and time where people’s mistakes are amplified to outrageous proportion. The sports news regularly carries the worst plays and the bloopers of the month, all of which focus on mistakes that anyone could make. The fact is we’ve all made mistakes, both personally and professionally, and none of us would want to show up on the blooper reel.
As leaders within our companies we have an opportunity every day to handle mistakes professionally and with understanding, or conversely, with an attitude that can make our employees feel like they are personally responsible for losing the game. What an opportunity for leaders to exhibit character, strength and compassion, which I believe builds the most competent and trustworthy team that any company can ultimately have.
When I think back to my early days in the transportation industry working in the warehouse and driving a truck, my personal blooper reel would have been embarrassing – particularly as part of a family business. Thankfully, I have fond memories of great managers and supervisors along the way who used my mistakes as teachable moments and showed me the way forward early in my career.
Very few of us will have our careers defined the way Bill Buckner’s was. In fact he was an accomplished player in every facet of the game, an outstanding teammate and most importantly a player who came to the field every day giving it his very best.
In the four hours I spent with Bill and his wife Jody playing golf in Sedona I got just a small taste of who they are as people. And two nicer people you couldn’t meet. Married for 38 years with a great family, they were a pleasure to play golf with, chat with and enjoy a beautiful day. Both excellent golfers, they were just as interested in my playing partner and I, as we were in them. It wasn’t about baseball or celebrity status, just four people in a chance meeting on a golf course having a great time together, mistakes and all.
Over the years most Boston fans came to forgive Bill for his famous error. Perhaps some even realized how ridiculous their behaviour towards him really was. The Red Sox invited him back to throw the first pitch at Fenway Park several years ago. Bill told me it was important for him and his wife to head back to Fenway so they could forgive the fans for the awful treatment they received in the years following the incident. And so the world finally moved on and Bill has as well.
So the next time one of your employees makes a mistake, even a big one, remember it presents an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to crush their spirit, focus on the negative and most likely poison the work environment, or to see it as a teachable moment, understanding that we all have our own blooper reel. Mistakes will happen, but it’s forgiveness that makes the world a better place.
To learn Bill’s story, here is a YouTube video.