The Curveball

One of the marks of a great leader is their ability to deal with unexpected circumstances: curveballs. You can do all the planning you want, unexpected things will happen at the last moment. The only question is what you’ll do when they’re thrown.

And in fact, curveballs can be a good thing.

Photo by Scott Ableman, Flickr Commons
Photo by Scott Ableman, Flickr Commons
I remember the very first time I threw a curveball. I was about 13 years old and a pitcher for my baseball team. I had borrowed a book from the library that showed the secrets of pitching. Among those secrets was instruction on how to throw big league curveballs!

The first time I threw a curveball in a game, the batter stood there baffled as the ball came in chest high and suddenly dove to the ground when it got to the plate. The catcher and I shared a huge grin, revelling in the glory of the curveball. It was a beautiful moment.

In little league baseball, batters get used to seeing fastballs. Straight, predictable fastballs. Fastballs aren’t necessarily easy to hit, but you know pretty much what to expect. The first time you see a curveball, your assumptions are humiliatingly brought to light as you’re forced to pay attention in a new way.

Curveballs keep batters honest.

Twice in the last week I’ve been in public meetings where curveballs were thrown. The projector broke down. Someone was called up to speak way out of order. When these things kinds of things happen, it’s easy to get flustered, but they also help us (and in both of these cases, the leaders handled the curveballs gracefully).

Curveballs awaken our senses. They pull us out of the rhythm we’re used to.

Fastball. Fastball. Fastball.

By surprising us, they help us to pay attention. To see again.

When batters started getting used to the curveballs I threw, they realized it was actually a really juicy pitch to hit if they could see it coming (and unfortunately, they did).

The next time you’re thrown a curveball, be grateful for the invitation to see again. And smash it out of the park.

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