Can nice guys finish first?

This column is inspired by a resilient yet sensitive 12-year-old little leaguer playing in an August 2022 Waco, Texas, World Series Game. The drama unfolded as a pitcher hurled a fastball that veered from the intended strike zone, hitting the batter in the head. The stunned kid at the plate dropped to the ground but quickly recovered, trotting down for a free ride to first base.

Having reached the bag, the intrepid player noticed the young man on the mound was in tears. Without hesitation and intuitively, he slowly walked over to him. Instead of confronting his abuser, he gave the hurler a big hug assuring him that he was OK. Stunned and delighted fans watched this pure act of kindness that went viral worldwide, dispelling Tom Hanks’s portrayal of a washed-up baseball coach who proclaimed in the movie A League of Their Own, “There’s no crying in baseball.”

If a comparable situation occurred with adult players, it would have resulted in a bench-clearing brawl.

As it’s said, “out of the mouth of babes…” We in business should learn a lesson about competition and fair play from this unabashed show of sportsmanship. I’m all for playing to win and a survival-of-the-fittest mentality, but there are limits. The popular cliché that “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” just doesn’t hold water anymore, particularly in these tumultuous and acrimonious times.

Today, customers, employees and investors won’t put up with this type of zero-sum game, and neither should organizations. By running a company this way, it’s just a matter of when, not if, this Machiavellian approach can be the catalyst for any organization to begin spiraling to destroy its reputation and threaten its very existence. Although an over dramatization for emphasis, imagine the CEO of a company employing questionable methods who is awakened by a pounding at the door, with the sheriff holding a search warrant to seize files that might reveal a paper trail of what was done to win at any cost. Or an employee uprising occurs with the CEO as the target of their wrath for conduct that will no longer be condoned or ignored.

These examples of consequences from bad management behavior in a quest to win are becoming the norm. In this new and better era, companies and their leadership must be held accountable not only for results but for how they are achieved.

Sportsmanship is just as much applicable to running a business as it is to playing a game the right way for the right reasons.

The good news is that most companies and organizations have ethics and want to savor those wins that reflect that they have the right stuff and succeed by doing it better than the competition. A victory achieved by playing outside the lines is meaningless and almost always leads to a bad ending.

Good sportsmanship teaches that every CEO, business leader, politician or government bureaucrat must lead through day-to-day actions, not just words. Accordingly, perhaps compassion and even a few tears in baseball and business may not be such a bad thing. ●

Visit Michael Feuer’s website to learn more about his columns, watch videos and purchase his books, “The Benevolent Dictator” and “Tips From The Top.”

Michael Feuer

Founder and CEO