Sports metaphors litter the business management landscape. There are the obvious parallels like teamwork, competition and self-pressure, yet there is little talk of resiliency, security, scale or technology disruption. To mis-quote Jacques Plante, when you mistake at work, there isn’t a red light that comes on and encourages 18,000 people to jeer you. I’ll be weaving sports in and out of this space, mostly because I find coaching is an invariant over sports, business, volunteer work and relationships. Which is how I came to edit this, derived from two interactions: with a group of college athletes who didn’t have a final season, and a high school football team whose final season ended with a difficult playoff loss.
The commencement season overflows with endings leading to beginnings, one chapter leading to the next as conveyed in multiple speeches. For scholastic athletes, their on-and-off again seasons are concluding in the strangest of all possible public health seasons, and their sense of “what next” multiplies accordingly.
The Real Commencement
I applaud the graduating seniors for continuing to put in the work, leading underclass teammates and carrying on the outstanding traditions of your program despite a global pandemic that led to new and more complex policies every other week.
It is bittersweet to have something end not because of what you did, but because of something out of your control. It's over, but it doesn't feel like the run is or should be over. And you start to wonder when -- or if -- you will again experience the joy of a walk off hit, a breaking ball that fools everyone, teammates who play defense with the vigor reserved for family.
Your team will be stronger in future seasons for the qualities you leave behind, and the world will be stronger for those you bring forward.
Journeys that began with teamwork that led you, consciously or not, to call each other siblings. Use that yardstick of measuring contribution, mutual re-inforcement and peer leadership in every situation, and you'll always make progress no matter how the score is kept.
You had the benefit of outstanding, dedicated coaches who treated you with the love normally accorded your own children. You honored their preparations and advice, you corrected as needed, and you remained focused through a season buffeted by nature in all of its forms. There are no better courses in leadership and development than having an amazing coach; use those experiences as role models when you evaluate management from any angle.
You will always play to your standard of integrity. Whether it's on the field of play, in the sphere of public opinion, or in a closed door discussion, there will consistently be influences that are below or controvert the level of self-discipline and fair play to which you've adhered. Bring a high level of competition with even higher senses of fair play.
This Season Of Joy
You will relive the joy. After the label of "last" is applied, it's easy to fear that you won't know the happiness that comes from a great team again. The joy doesn't end with the last game or last at-bat; it starts with the relationships you have developed, the friendships that will last a lifetime, the game memories that will grow brighter and funnier and more intense when you need to share them the most. Your leadership on the field will translate to powerful leadership in the workplace, thoughtful leadership in society, and quiet leadership helping your friends and families navigate the extra innings of adulthood. You will know and find joy in all of these things because your experiences as athletes and teammates taught you how to create joy for yourself and your closest circles.
The repeating seasons of joy are beginning, not ending.
It's called Commencement for those reasons.