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Carlos Zambrano

“Ultimate Teammate…”
They will assume whatever role is necessary for the team to win.

Two weeks ago, I visited Chicago to do a series of speeches for Microsoft at a sales meeting. Chicago is one of my favorite cities, so at week’s end my family flew in to join me so we could enjoy for a little vacation. There was nothing I was looking forward to more than taking my two children on their first visit to Wrigley Field. I loved how excited my kids seemed to be whenever my wife and I mentioned our destination…until we arrived at the game and they realized we were at a baseball stadium and not “Wiggly Field” where they envisioned the musical group, The Wiggles, would be playing.

It was a tough blow for a sports-loving father of a three-year-old and two-year-old to take! Even so, my family had a wonderful time at the game, watching Carlos Zambrano pitch and even hit a homerun as the Cubs defeated the Cincinnati Reds.

How disappointing it was, then, this past weekend to see the talented but enigmatic Zambrano react so poorly to a poor performance in which he gave up five homeruns in the first five innings of a game with the Atlanta Braves. Despite the hole his team was in, Cubs manager Mike Quade chose to leave Zambrano in the game; Quade knew the long weekend series ahead meant going to his bullpen that early in the first game of the series would put a strain on the rest of the team.
Rather than quietly accepting that decision, Zambrano took out his anger at the way the game was going by hurling two pitches at Braves veteran Chipper Jones. Zambrano was immediately ejected from the game by the umpire — the result he was obviously seeking — and stormed off the field.

While his teammates wrapped up the game — a 10-4 loss — Zambrano cleaned out his locker and left with a declaration that he was retiring from baseball that very night. He later apologized for that outburst, saying: “It was a moment of frustration Friday night, and I pitched so bad I wanted to retire, you know, I don’t want to be making $18 million and pitch like crap.” But the story is still all over the news.

"How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it?" -Marcus AureliusZambrano has had issues in the past as well (he was ordered into anger management by the Cubs after an altercation with a teammate last year); but his great talent has given him several second chances. This weekend, the Cubs, whoseem to have grown tired of the situation, suspended him without pay for 30 days and the team’s GM called Zambrano’s abandonment of his teammates “intolerable.” Zambrano was willing to throw dangerously at another player and jeopardize his team because things were not going his way — a sign that he is not as concerned about the shared goal as his own statistics. By taking actions that made himself feel good as he vented his anger, he put the team in the back of his mind and focused only on himself.

Tips from the Great Ones

So why would I share this story in a “Moments of Greatness” newsletter? Because over years of working with Great winners, I know that sometimes we can learn the most powerful lessons in Greatness by looking at examples of what not to do. When I was working last year with Michael Oher, the centerpiece of the movie The Blind Side, on his book I Beat the Odds, he mentioned that one of the reasons he was able to stay away from drugs and violence as a boy growing up in a horrific environment was because he had been surrounded by so many negative examples. He studied the mistakes he wanted to avoid while seeking out the company of people who made better choices.

zambrano4That’s the same kind of lesson we can take from Zambrano’s behavior this past week: If we consider what about his behavior made him a terrible teammate, we can try to avoid making those same mistakes with our own teams.

Can you think of any time when your reaction to a situation was so focused on yourself that it affected the rest of your team? Maybe you fired off an email too quickly, without really thinking it through; maybe you vented your frustration through yelling or lashing out at a co-worker or family member.

We’re all guilty of reacting selfishly at one point or another when a situation doesn’t go our way. But consider how disruptive that can be not only to the overall project and even to the team as a whole when one member loses sight of the big picture and focuses only on his or her piece of the puzzle.

Apply this Characteristic: Designate a "venting zone" in your office or place of work. If something frustrates you to the point of wanting to lash out, take a little walk to wherever it is- a supply closet, the restroom, your car- and remain there for a few minutes while you decompress. This keeps you from reacting right away by snapping at someone or sending an email you'll later regret, and it will give you a chance to consider how to resolve the issue in a way that is more beneficial to your team. Sometimes, it is the most talented members of a team who have the biggest challenge. In Zambrano’s case, he expected more from himself than he was able to deliver that night. While his pursuit of excellence in his job performance is admirable, he lost sight of the fact that his role on the field is to pitch each game for his team, not for himself — and his overblown reaction shows it.

Consider today how you react to frustration at work. Do you vent your anger in ways that can derail a project or damage morale? Before you do anything, consider the consequences of your actions not just for yourself but for the people around you. Learning self control and keeping perspective will make you a far better teammate and one step closer to true Greatness.

Do you know a story of true Greatness from your community? I’d love to hear it! Please write to to share it.

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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