In my spare time (yeah, right!), I coach youth sports. For basketball, I help out with a YMCA team. For baseball, I help with a local recreational league team. I began coaching when my son played in those leagues, and I have been fortunate enough to be asked back by various coaches even though my son has moved on to high school sports. The last few years, I’ve been involved with teams that fall into the 13 to 15 year old range for both basketball and baseball. At those ages, there aren’t any co-ed teams, so these teams consist of 13-15 year old teenage boys. And yes, you read that correctly, I did return voluntarily.
The baseball team plays in a league that is special to me. It’s in the neighborhood where I grew up, and it’s where I played baseball as a kid. Back then, it was a lower-middle class neighborhood. Today, let’s just say the “middle” has faded quite a bit. Many of these kids come from less than ideal family situations, and in a lot of cases, their fathers aren’t around to help. Transportation to and from practices and games is usually a problem. The facilities need a lot of work. And equipment provided by the league is pretty much non-existent because they just don’t have the money. But I’m glad to help these coaches and these kids, because learning baseball (and inherent lessons like “teamwork”, “preparation”, “discipline” and “commitment”) can help long after you are no longer a player.
Take a second to think about the situation. How difficult do you think it would be to get a dozen teenage boys on the same page, working in the same direction? If you don’t have teenage kids, feel free to ask someone who does. Now add in the economic and family situations of these particular kids. Does this seem like a task you would undertake? Does it sound very difficult or nearly impossible?
You’re dead wrong. Let me tell you what happened last week.
Last Wednesday, we had practice scheduled in the evening as usual. Our local high school had the audacity to schedule fall sports physicals on the same day in the late afternoon. So of the dozen players on the team, half were getting their sports physicals and wouldn’t be able to make it to practice. During the afternoon, I got a text message from the team manager that said he had to work late and wouldn’t be able to make it. He asked me if I could handle practice that night, and I replied “no problem”. It was a busy day at work and I wasn’t able to leave on time. And traffic was terrible (the park is on my way home, but still over 20 miles from work). I realized that I was going to be really late getting to practice, and that nobody else had team equipment or even baseballs to run practice. It turns out I was half an hour late getting there. I expected that the remaining players would have left by the time I arrived, with no coaches, no equipment and only half the team there anyway.
What I found was six kids practicing hard using what they had to work with, namely their gloves and one old baseball. Without any coaches around, they had warmed up, stretched and ran around the field just as we always have them do before practices or games. Then they organized a drill that involved six players and one baseball to work on throwing, catching and situational decisions (which base do I throw to, etc.).
All on their own.
They could have simply left, and nobody could have blamed them. They could have just “hung out” and not practiced at all until I arrived. They could have complained that we coaches left them high and dry that day. But they didn’t. Half a dozen, low income, disadvantaged teenage boys knew what needed to be done and they did it without supervision or direction. Even when they didn’t have the tools they needed. Even with no one there see it happen.
Character (and integrity) is sometimes described as “doing the right thing even when no one is watching”. People have character. A person’s character is pervasive. It shapes their behavior and the decisions they make, in work and in life. Good character helps you in just about every aspect of your life, no matter your profession. Poor character follows you wherever you go, no matter how hard you might try to escape it. And, like it or not, each person’s character is apparent to those they interact with on any regular basis.
Companies don’t have character, they are incapable. Each company has an inherent culture built on the character of its people. A strong company culture built upon high character people results in a business that will do the right thing, to the best of its ability, even when no one is watching. A culture like that, built by people who understand the importance of good character, is one of the most valuable assets that any business can hope to possess. And that culture is nearly impossible to buy or replicate.
For a little more insight into honesty and character, please enjoy this clip from the movie “The Big Kahuna”. It’s worth five minutes of your time, I promise.