At the risk of sounding overly sentimental, watching the Yankees captain step up to the plate at his last All-Star Game this week brought tears to my eyes and made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. If you are a fan of America’s Pastime, or sports generally – or have a pulse – you’ve probably heard the name Derek Jeter. While his pinstripes might cause many a non-Yankees fan to wince, one thing is for certain – Jeter garners a degree of respect uncommon in today’s sporting world. In fact, that level of admiration is just uncommon generally.
It’s an unfortunate commentary on our society that you can scour your mind and come up short for examples of those in politics, business, media and entertainment for someone who is held is such high regard. It might sound trite, but unfortunately we may not see the likes of him again.
Jeter personifies excellence, class and professional standards that should serve as a model not only for those in professional sports, but all of us. In so many ways, he is the personification of the American Dream – a kid from a middle class, mixed-race family who tirelessly developed an enormous talent, made it onto the national stage and never lost sight of basic values.
As he ends his career on the field this season, we should all take note of how he played the game. Perhaps more than any other group our politicians have much to learn from Jeter’s example. Here are five lessons our so-called leaders should take to heart. Maybe it would make for government that our citizens can respect again.
- Do Your Job – This might sound like a no-brainer, but all too often in politics, we see folks spending a lot more time telling people how someone else isn’t doing their job, instead of working hard at doing their own. It’s the old ‘glass houses’ analogy and it escapes most in the political class. Derek Jeter helped make other players better. He didn’t just whine about how someone was under-performing publicly or privately. His first responsibility was to be the best he could be for the entire team. After proving his worth, he then could turn his attention to helping to address weak spots in his organization. That’s leading by example.
- Don’t Showboat – This is a tough one for politicians but it’s essential to making government work. There’s always been a modesty about Jeter that adds to the public’s appreciation for him. He just tips his hat, thanks the crowd and heads back into the dugout. The President just gave a speech in which he used the word ‘I’ more than 100 times. That’s not very Jeter-like. Elected officials need to talk less about themselves and more about others. They need to share the credit rather than horde the camera. They need to remember who put them where they are and why. Being humble is classy. People like it. Promote yourself by doing something. Remember, Jeter knows he’s one of the greatest players ever to set foot on a baseball field. But you’d never hear him say it.
- Don’t Blame Others for Your Own Failures – Derek Jeter never pointed fingers. Just like anyone, he has had his rough patches, but he never blamed someone else publicly or privately for his bad game, hit-less streak or error on the field. He took responsibility for his own actions and worked even harder to conquer those challenges. For politicians, it’s always the Republicans’ fault or the Democrats’ fault or Bush’s fault or Congresses fault. They shoot in every direction, denying any blame so focused on pointing fingers that little time or energy is left for advancing solutions. Our public officials aren’t elected to just blast each other on television.
- Perform in the Clutch – Derek Jeter was never a big home-run hitter. He knew however, how to stay calm and come through when the team needed him the most. Sometimes a bunt can be just as effective as hitting it over the fence. Sometimes a single was all that was needed to bring the guy on second base home. Sometimes, the sacrifice fly ball made all the difference. For our elected officials facing a myriad of crises, not the least of which is the crisis of confidence with the public, now is the time to come through for American freedom. Massive debt, deficits, overreach, national security, immigration, corruption, and other chronic problems demand politicians resist the urge to only try to hit the elusive home run and just put the ball in play. There’s no right field short porch inWashington.
- Know When to Quit – Perhaps this one is the most important in terms of sending a message to Washington or our state capitals. Jeter appreciates that he’s made his contribution to the game. He’s done his best and left an indelible mark on history. At the ripe old age of 40, he knows it’s time to hang up his pinstripes. Too many cling to the game of politics long past the time when they’re effective. An entrenched political class leads to corruption, a lack of innovation, increasing barriers to participation by others and an overall stagnation of policy. Our Founders envisioned public service as a temporary honor, not a lifelong profession. There is no doubt that Derek Jeter will find his own way to stay relevant to the game of baseball in the future. So too should public officials have the humility and vision to serve in different ways thereby injecting new blood into the system.