The Kansas City Royals had just lost their third game in a row to the Boston Red Sox 6-0, but if you looked around the clubhouse on July 20, you wouldn’t have seen a team that looked like they had just lost their ninth game in 12 days. Instead, you would have seen group of guys with their eyes glued to their iPads playing “Clash of Clans.”
“At that time, in that situation, it’s really disappointing,” Royals first baseman Rusty Kuntz told the Kansas City Star. “You just got to a point where you go, ‘What’s the priority here? Is this just three hours out of your time, spent away from what you’re actually being interested in? We’ve got to find a way to get this changed, so that the priority is the game, and all this other stuff is secondary.’”
The Royals would lose the next day 3-1 to the Chicago White Sox. Four losses in a row. If the Royals wanted to make it to the playoffs, something had to change.
That’s when outfielder Raúl Ibañez, 42, decided to call a players-only meeting.
Ibañez—backed by veterans Jason Frasor and Scott Downs—gave the team an emotional speech, addressing the team’s slump, priorities and their potential.
Though what was said behind those closed doors is unknown, the results were clear. The night of Ibañez’ speech the Royals defeated the White Sox 7-1. They would go on to win their next five games in a row, 22 of the next 27 games after their meeting and finally reach the playoffs for the first time since 1985.
There are four lessons on leadership we can learn from Ibañez:
1. Leaders can come from anywhere.
Leaders don’t always have to be someone in a position of leadership, someone with a title or even someone with seniority. While Ibañez has been in the Major Leagues for 19 years, he had only been a member of the Royals for 20 days before delivering his rousing speech. He had spent the first half of the 2014 season with the Los Angeles Angels before he was acquired by the Royals.
2. Leaders inspire.
Ibañez’ teammates say his speech gave them goose bumps. “He does that to us all of the time,” Royals centerfield Jarrod Dyson told USA Today. “I can't even tell you the impact he’s made on me, and everyone in this clubhouse. I just know we wouldn’t be in the position we are today without him.”
3. Leaders hold you accountable.
Ibañez made it his personal responsibility to speak up. “The reward is doing the right thing,” Ibañez told the Star. “I think it would have been irresponsible for me not to have spoken up at that point. I was just doing what you’re supposed to do as a veteran player.”
4. Leaders put the team first.
Despite his experience, Ibañez only played in 33 games for the Royals this year. He was also left off the playoff roster. While every player would prefer to be in the starting lineup, Ibañez is happy to support his team from the dugout.
The Royals will play the San Francisco Giants tonight in Game 4 of the World Series. Though Ibañez won’t be playing, it was his message three months ago that helped his team get this far. “If you have the attitude to match the talent, then great things can happen.”