In the 1992 movie A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks, playing Jimmy Dugan, the crusty, alcoholic manager of a professional women’s baseball team, delivered the now famous cinematic pep talk that concludes with the statement, “There’s no crying in baseball!!”
Well, my fellow entrepreneurs, there was crying in baseball on July 29, 2015, by 23-year-old New York Mets infielder Wilmer Flores. When Flores took the field for the top of the eighth inning he was crying because he had just heard the (false) report that he had been traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. He sobbed, very publicly, his way through the inning. It was a level of naked vulnerability I have seldom seen in professional sports. He took his position with red eyes and tear-lined cheeks and throughout the inning was seen wiping his nose and upper lip on his glove. At one point he wiped both his eyes on his sleeves. It was a truly touching and guileless evincement of human vulnerability.
But what is really interesting and surprising about this incident is that it has turned this middling, quiet, unheralded baseball player into a cult hero for the nonce. The Flores incident has tapped into a cultural longing for the real, for the authentic. During August, Steiner Sports, a sports memorabilia company, started offering signed pictures of Flores at $80 a pop ($215 with frame!) and can’t keep them in stock.
Likewise, let us consider the phenomenon of Donald Trump. In addition to making the race for U.S. president enormously entertaining, Trump has tapped into a zeitgeist that longs for the real. Maybe vulnerability is not the first word that comes to mind when thinking of him, but Trump is also speaking into this longing with his startlingly un-PC spontaneity. He is frankly telling the truth–his truth–uncensored by societal cliches of what is deemed acceptable among traditional elites.
The Flores and Trump phenomenons point to a new and universal yearning for simple unalloyed candor.
There is a lesson and a learning here for those of us trying to lead our small companies successfully. And that is that the command-and-control trope, long so dominant in corporate leadership thinking, is less and less efficacious. (Note the negative repercussions for Jeff Bezos of last week’s New York Times article documenting managerial bullying at Amazon.) There is a growing cultural uneasiness with executives who govern from fear and the heavy hand, and who swing their big corporate leadership dicks with statements like “lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Leaders so enamored of their own top-down power are old-fashioned in a world where effective organizational hierarchies are increasingly horizontal.
Georg Vilmetter and Yvonne Sell wrote an interesting essay for the Harvard Business Review website last July in which they divided executive leaders by the type of power driving them. They define these two types as the egocentric and the altrocentic. Vilmetter and Sell say the following:
“Egocentric leaders tend to be concerned only with personalized power–power that gets them ahead. Altrocentric leaders, on the other hand, derive power from motivating, not controlling others. The altrocentric leader who is intrinsically motivated by socialized power, and who draws strength and satisfaction from teaching, team building, and empowering others, will be able to handle the increased pressure of tomorrow’s business environment. They understand that they need not ‘have all the answers’ themselves, and this mindset and willingness to turn to others for help better equips them to handle the stress of the uneasy chair.”
Which brings me back to Mr. Trump and Mr. Flores and the public’s hunger for the no-bullshit Real. We respond to these two very different men because we viscerally long to find simple, direct truths for ourselves and in our confusing, complicated world.
Brene Brown, in her recent book Daring Greatly: How the Courage To Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, says this. “There is no triumph without vulnerability.” Thank you Sister Brown.