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3 Lessons in Leadership from the Bullpen of the Kansas City Royals

In the sixth inning or later, the Royals were trailing in 8 out of 11 post-season games they won. In six of these comebacks, the Royals were down by two or more runs. No other team has ever done anything like this.

The credit must be shared. Every player exhibited resilience, dogged determination and faith in each other. The ability to seize opportunities and make the most of opponents' errors and fatigue was also remarkable.

And there was something more, something identified by USA Today as "no better weapon." The relief pitchers led this team to victory in every one of those games and all the way to a World Series Championship.

Wade Davis. Kelvin Herrera. Luke Hochevar. Ryan Madson. Franklin Morales. Danny Duffy. Chris Young (also a starter).

When it counts, these pitchers come through. Wade Davis is thought to be the best closer in major league ball. Each of these relief pitchers has executed on exactly what was needed, sometimes just one inning or one batter at a time.

These aren't the most glamorous roles in baseball. The amount of time in the game is negligible compared to starting pitchers.

What's more, it's difficult to imagine a more stressful role in any occupation. With the team trailing, these guys come into the game and are expected to pitch with perfection. There is no room for error when the game is in its final innings and the other team is ahead.

So what can leaders learn from the Royals bullpen?

1. Grace under pressure. The composure these pitchers show is an example to all of us. Without a doubt, that calm, cool and collected demeanor conveys confidence and dominance to each batter stepping up to the plate. Composure enables concentration for the pitcher, too. Contrast this to your own reactions in a high-pressure situation. What are you signaling with your demeanor? Are you telegraphing a message that you're in control? Are you calm enough to concentrate on near-perfect execution when it matters most? Or are you frenzied and emotionally erratic in those moments?

2. No matter how small your part, do it to the very best of your ability. Everyone on a winning team knows their role and takes it seriously. Understanding and leveraging the strengths of every team member enhances outcomes. Being bitter because someone else got more time on the mound doesn't help the team. Maybe you're coming in for one very specific task, only one batter who you are best suited to face. Embrace your role and give it your all.

3. No one has to do it alone. Johnny Cueto pitched a full 9 innings for a win in Game 2 of the World Series. That was unusual. Most pitchers don't make it all the way through a game. This was a welcome exception coming after a 14-inning game the night before that brought in most of the bullpen. More often, there is another pitcher warming up in the bullpen, ready to take the mound and relieve a pitcher who isn't able to deliver against the upcoming batters. Relief pitchers are there for the team and for each other. Are you backed up with capable relievers? Have you hired, trained, delegated and trusted others to step up to the mound when you need relief?

As a leader, think about what you are doing when the going gets rough. Think like a Royals reliever and you may become even stronger than you are as a starter who tries to go all 9 innings in every single game.

To read more about how the Kansas City Royals 2015 team exemplifies strong leadership, check out our previous posts in this CONNECT2Lead series

CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalThe CONNECT2Lead Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. Our founder, Deb Calvert, is a certified Executive Coach and has supported over 300 companies with leadership development and sales training programs.