Can you keep playing when the game's not fair? | Contributor

By Mike Cook
Courtesy to The Bellingham Business Journal

As a manager, especially a manager of younger employees, one thing I encourage you to be on the lookout for are occasions that attack the confidence of the your less-experienced people.

No doubt you can remember your own baptisms by fire, when in your earlier years you may have innocently asked a question of a superior in an open meeting and was handed your head on a platter following a public flaying that left you questioning yourself, your values, the direction of the poles, etc.

If you were fortunate, you had a manager who took you aside and assured you that you were fine—that what you had done hadn’t warranted the treatment you received and maybe there were better ways or times to make your thoughts or questions known in the future.

If you were not so fortunate, you were met in the hall after the meeting by a co-worker who cauterized your wound with a glib “glad that wasn’t me” comment.

This would forever cement in your mind that you were never going to let anything close to that happen again, and you were never heard from there again, or anyplace else that had a similar look and feel.

If you’ve been around for a while now, you know the drill. You know you will survive, and you know there will always be another day. The point is not so much to avoid the impact of life in the workplace as it is to develop the ability to choose your points of high impact and recover quickly.

But not so for your younger employees.

As an object lesson, let me present a situation still talked about by many sports fans.

In baseball, there are two types of actors on the field at all times: those who play the game, and those who officiate the games. Theirs is an uneasy interdependency made necessary by the subjective nature of many of the transactions.

On June 2, 2010, the fans in Detroit’s Comerica Park were on the verge of being treated to one of the rarest events in all of sports: the pitching of a perfect game (something that has occurred only 18 times since 1900, out of something like half a million games played in that period).

Unfortunately, the gods of baseball had a weird sense of fate.

On a play that would have been the last of the game, a veteran umpire made an erroneous call on a fairly routine play, costing the pitcher, the players and the fans the experience of a lifetime.

Almost everyone at Comerica that evening could readily see the error of the call made by umpire Jim Joyce.

The fans were stunned, the Detroit players were furious, the manager, Jim Leyland, offered strenuous protest, but to no avail.

Amazingly, the pitcher, Armando Galarraga, calmly returned to the mound, faced the next batter, got him out and completed a one-hit game for the win.

Following the game, a chagrined Joyce faced the press, admitted his mistake and apologized in person to Galarraga. The next day, to no one’s surprise, there was an appeal to the Major League Baseball commissioner, Bud Selig, to reverse the call and award the perfect game.

To his credit, Selig was true to the game and declined to reverse the call.

Just like in any workplace, the two protagonists in this drama returned to work the following day.

In a rare and inspirational gesture, Galarraga met Joyce at home plate with the daily lineup card (a task normally completed by the team’s manager), gave him a pat on the back and a hug and assured him that he forgave the mistake. He affirmed his confidence in Joyce’s ability to effectively call the balls and strikes that day.

Remarkable and rare, a story worth repeating, and one I encourage you to share with your younger employees.

No matter what game you are playing, there will always be bad calls—and the opportunity to play again soon.

In any interdependency, whether it is a marriage or a relationship between co-workers or business partners, there is room for disappointment. At times we will let each other down.

These are the moments that define relationships. These are the moments that define careers.

When they occur, will we withdraw from the field never to risk again, or will we return to play knowing that somewhere in the future we will experience disappointment again?

Can we learn to apologize, and can we learn to forgive? Can we put the past in the past, even when we know the game will never be fair?

For those who cannot—they call them spectators.

– Are you noticing any of your reports becoming spectators?

– Are there apologies for you to make or forgiveness to grant?

Mike Cook is a management developer who lives in Anacortes, Wash. He publishes a weekly blog at

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