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CIO Unplugged 6/13/12

June 13, 2012 Ed Marx 10 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

When the Worst is Best

Years ago, I played on a church softball team. We lost every game we played in the city league for multiple seasons.

Some team members were proud of the fact we were well known for our “good attitudes and behaviors,” but I wanted no part of a losing team, bad or good attitudes aside. I figured if we won a few games along the way, our good sportsmanship reputation would be better respected.

I stayed engaged. As the best player on the team, I was eventually asked to manage the team. I essentially took over the Bad News Bears.

Early the next spring, I held tryouts. I also secured a sponsor who provided us with all the equipment and uniforms necessary to field a team. My criteria for players? In addition to good attitudes, they had to be better players than me. I could hold my own fielding and batting, so I figured if I were the threshold, we would be competitive.

We practiced. We scouted our opposition. We started winning. In making lineup adjustments, I eventually scratched myself out of the starting lineup.

We took first place in our league and won tournaments. We were now known for good sportsmanship and as the team to beat. Fun and satisfying! I still have all the trophies boxed up in the attic, unable to completely let go.

What I learned about leadership and teamwork during my softball era helped shape who I am today.

My objectives at work are similar. As I build teams, my goal is to be the least-talented and gifted leader. If I am the threshold, I think we will serve our organization well.

You’ve heard the adage that C leaders hire D players and B leaders hire C players, but A players hire A+ players. My ultimate objective is to eventually work myself out of a position. When a leader leaves an organization, it should be positioned to accelerate.

Hiring and cultivating leaders who are—or who can become—better than you takes confidence. It’s an intimidating step that will expose insecurities you didn’t know existed. Fight through the weaknesses and self-doubt. Learn from your team.

But be careful! Don’t let your insecurities interfere. Don’t sabotage your leaders out of fear. Put on your big boy pants and die to yourself.

Die. To. Your. Self.

Here’s the deal. Being the best on your team limits your organization’s potential. Being the best in a position where you’ve reached the top means you can’t learn from those around you. Where is the genuine satisfaction in that?

If I insisted on being the best player on my softball team, I would’ve made great plays and batted in some runs. Would we have won? Probably not. Sure, I would’ve received plenty of ego strokes, but at what price?

Ironically, not only did our softball team win, but I improved as a player. At work, I continually grow. Why? My team. Funny how that works.


Thank you for your responses on “When the Worst is Best.” In addition to those on HIStalk, I received many via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and e-mail. They are overwhelmingly positive, albeit some missed the primary point and  took offense to forming a competitive team from a church.

Let me put it this way. As a carpenter, Jesus himself would not only have made himself one heck of a bat, He would have aimed to win. Since we had 100+ turn out for the tryouts, we also fielded some recreational teams for those who just wanted to “play” and did not care about winning.

There is room for that in softball, but in our profession where we impact people’s lives, I only want the best and I am not ashamed to say it.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "10 comments" on this Article:

  1. “As I build teams, my goal is to be the least-talented and gifted leader.

    Scott Adams could have fun with this one.

  2. What about the players who weren’t as good as you who just wanted to play softball with their fellow church members? I guess they can’t do that because they weren’t winning?

    I’m not sure church softball teams should have the same goals as professional IT organizations.

  3. A great story and a great show of confidence. I once tried to refuse hiring someone that, on paper, looked much more talented than myself. My boss overrode my decision, and as it turned out I had nothing to fear. I became a better leader in the end because that experience showed me as long as I do the right thing, learn from everyone, and treat everybody as my customer, the rest will take care of itself.

  4. Maybe there is a different lesson to be learned. The team was happy playing for fun. They did not turn fellowship into a competitive sport with only one acceptable outcome — a higher score. The new player gets put in charge because he’s aggressive enough to want it. He changes the goals, cuts all the players, and brings in ringers who can win. The “team” wins, but it’s not the same team.

    Micro managers in healthcare whip up on doctors and nurses to meet their numbers, follow the rules, work smarter AND harder, and swear allegiance to management. Good clinicians and IT people get pushed out because they care more about people or their own satisfaction than climbing over each other’s back to earn a corporate pat on the head. This makes them losers, so out they go.

    I hope in both cases they form new teams. Sometimes the people really are good, just motivated by something other than one person’s definition of “winner.”

  5. Wow Ed! Love the analogy- what a challenging perspective. You are so right in regards to putting on the big boy pants. It takes a lot of fortitude to set you sights on building around you people to replace you. I think that is great insight for building perpetuity into the organization. Dying to self, I’m guessing you get more from your church than just managing the softball team… Thanks for the writeup.

  6. Somehow, I think a very fragrant rose bush became trampled in the climb to the top of the church league……


  7. Excellent piece! I can see Jesus swinging for the fences. But most important is your point about surrounding yourself with people better than you. That takes courage!!! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Excellent piece, I can see Jesus swinging for the fences. But most important is your point about surrounding yourself with people better than you. That takes courage!!! Thanks for sharing.

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