Note: I went through and tried to clean up a few of the copy editing mistakes, this what happens when you write at 2 a.m.
Just googling the words "leadership quotes" is process that will yield a number of websites and blogs that are overwhelmed with quotes from a range of politicians, poets, writers, athletes, coaches, business leaders and honestly people I've never heard of before.
And in this sea of thoughts, I've come to realize that there is no right way or wrong way to lead. Not in politics, not in business and certainly not in sports. And anymore, I'm not even certain about the importance of leaders in sports, or at least our perceived notion of what leaders are.
Just look at a few random ones I found …
Individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work. -- Vince Lombardi
Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing. -- Albert Schweitzer
The strength of the group is the strength of the leaders. -- Vince Lombardi
Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes. -- Peter Drucker
Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions. -- Harold S. Geneen
"The leader who exercises power with honor will work from the inside out, starting with himself." - Blaine Lee.
I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure: which is: Try to please everybody. – Herbert B. Swope
Leadership involves finding a parade and getting in front of it. – John Naisbitt
These are just random pickings from what were thousands of quotes that were meant to be either. So why was I spending my enjoyable, post Duke-loss Thursday evening googling quotes about leadership? I got sucked into perusing the quotes from Ichiro's first meeting with the local writers in Arizona today.
If you haven't heard by now, he was asked about and addressed the idea of being a leader and some of the comments that were made about him former teammate J.J. Putz and manager Jim Riggleman to the Seattle Times.
To be fair, I wasn't there on Thursday, but I could have told you a month ago what some of the questions that were going been asked. And I don't disagree with Times writer Geoff Baker for asking those questions. He had to follow up on what they wrote earlier. Really, the questions probably needed to be asked after what happened last season.
"Trying to get a team together and point to one guy and say follow this leader sounds very easy and simple thing to do. In fact, if you go in this style there are manholes in this style of doing it," Ichiro said. "I think people who believe this fundamental thought process of choosing a leader and getting a team to follow them should change their thought process. What's important is ... individuals who want to improve themselves."
This is Ichiro's way, and really it's the way of a lot of players. Raul Ibanez was consumed with his day-to-day preparation. He didn't have time to babysit Jose Lopez to make sure he was taking extra groundballs instead of eating cheetos on the couch. He didn't have time to force to Yuni stop watching soccer and go out and take early batting practice when he was hitting in the low .200s, or teach him why it's bad to swing at a pitch a foot outside. Raul was consumed with doing an exacting day-to-day routine because it was needed for him to play at his highest level. If he didn't put in all that work, he would never have had half the success he had.
Along those lines, answer these questions: Has anyone ever complained that Ichiro was out of shape? Has anyone complained that Ichiro doesn't work on his defense? Has anyone accused of Ichiro for not putting enough work on his hitting?
The answer is "no" to all of those. He prepares with an obsessive compulsive attitude. And the results speak for themselves.
As someone who was there daily, I noticed this: once Ichiro shows up to a clubhouse during spring training or in the season, he doesn't spend much time goofing off, sitting in front of his locker or chatting with teammates. He has a specific purpose, a schedule and he keeps to it. He believes that it's necessary for him to have success. And I would say that it's tough argue with his results.
This is how he views his personal responsibility to the team.
"I was not a leader for the Japan WBC team," Ichiro said. "To have a leader, that's not the important thing. What is important is to group together individuals who want to improve themselves as baseball players and improve themselves as human beings. That's what's important."
From all that I observed and read, that's how Japanese players view the inner-workings of a baseball team. They don't romanticize the idea of the team leader. Basically, on a Japanese team, the players all worry about being the best player possible so they don't need a leader to tell them to do so. And if everyone does that, then they will be the best team possible.
Unfortunately that attitude didn't necessarily permeate in all the players on the 2008 Mariners squad. And to some, it meant that Ichiro or Raul automatically had to be the guys to extoll that "right" attitude on their teammates? Because they are the best players on the field, that means they have to be the team's leaders? I don't think so.
Jay Buhner was never the best player on most of his Mariners' teams. But yet he was still an unquestioned leader. I don't think anybody appointed him to that post. Manny Ramirez is the best player on any team he's played on and no one would ever construe him as a leader.
Is it right for others to appoint Ichiro as a leader, when he clearly doesn't have the personality or the desire to do so? I don't think so. And neither does he.
"Saying, 'Everybody follow this leader,' sounds like a very simple thing to do," he said. "People who believe this fundamental thought process of choosing a leader and getting the team to follow them should change the thought process. A team leader appearing is a good thing. But to choose one or appoint one is not the right way of doing things."
But here's possibly the most salient quote from the whole interview to me.
"If there's a group of people who don't know what their goals are or the correct thing to do, yeah, you need a team leader," he said. "But this is major league baseball. We're not at that level anymore."
And this is something I've railed about in the past concerning professional baseball players, including the other day with Ian Furness. If it's your job to be the best baseball player possible, then should you really need to have a teammate push you to do so? If the well-above-the-common-man salary you are receiving isn't enough of an incentive to work at it, how about working harder simply out of respect to your teammates, your team and the game?
I know this idea baffles Ichiro, and to some extent Raul. They simply don't fathom how a player – specifically one that isn't producing – not put in maximum effort to change the results. They don't grasp contentment with mediocrity. And for Ichiro having the mediocre question his approach has to seem ludicrous.
Obviously Ichiro's preparation and style of play differs from his teammates. But that doesn't mean it's wrong.
"This is major league baseball. We're all professionals here. Is it really at a level where I have to explain to other people what are the reasons I do some things?" he asked. "We're all professionals. It makes me feel like a mom telling a child, 'this is why I do things.'"
I'm not exonerating him from all criticism. His refusal to dive for balls and his stubbornness as to when he wants to steal and when he doesn't irks me a little, and it does irk his teammates. And on some level it could be construed as being selfish. An athlete being selfish? Shocking. Yet the NBA still survives and Terrell Owens is still employed.
"Isn't what a professional does is look at other things and try to steal things from other people by watching and learning from others? Isn't that what it means to be a professional?"
One would think.
Ichiro is not a perfect baseball player by any means, and for all that he isn't, there's still so much more that he is. Fortunately, for him and for the Mariners, there are a few more professionals on the 2009 team. And a month and a half into spring training, leaders have already emerged, they didn't need to be appointed. Perhaps we can finally put 2008 away for a while.