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What We Can All Learn from Derek Jeter

October 2nd, 2014


Last week, an amazing career came to an end. Derek Jeter, one of the premier players in the history of baseball, played his final game in Yankee Stadium. He is 40 years old.

The storybook game ended a storybook career. If you are one of the few people who hasn’t heard about Derek Jeter or his final game, you can find highlights all over YouTube or learn anything you’d like in any one of thousands of Google links.

You can also learn about Derek in Fortune Magazine. Earlier this year, Fortune published its list of the World’s Best Leaders. Derek Jeter ranked number 11, right there next to Pope Francis, Warren Buffett, the Dalai Lama, and Jeff Bezos. One may ask, “how can a baseball player earn such an honor?” For anyone who has watched Derek over the years, the answer is obvious.

I’ve always been a baseball fan, but this article is not about baseball. It is about the lessons we can all learn from Derek Jeter. It is about lessons of leadership, integrity, perseverance, discipline, respect, and achievement. Lessons of Walking the Talk. Lessons of Greatness. Derek is certainly a skilled athlete, but his greatness far exceeded his skill in baseball. In short, Derek Jeter is a winner. While he has always been an outstanding individual performer, his leadership has resulted in an unmatched level of team success.

Derek Jeter played for the Yankees, the most prolific team in the history of sports. His career spanned 20 years, playing (and working) in New York City, the media capital of the world. Derek played in an era when steroid-use ran rampant, where a huge percentage of his competitors were juiced up, gaining unfair advantages in speed and strength.

His career unfolded in a pressure-packed fishbowl during the age of the Internet, smartphones, 24-hour news cycles, and social media. Derek Jeter was under a microscope each and every day for two full decades, competing against the most skilled opponents in the world. In an era filled with controversy, substance abuse, free-agency, scandal, media hype, social media, and paparazzi, Derek rose above it all and simply, humbly did his job. 

Most players, even highly talented ones, are unable to survive the pressures and temptations of playing in New York City. Legions of “stars” have flamed out under the Big Apple’s hot lights. If you think Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and a continuous barrage of emails, and texts distract you from completing your important work, consider the discipline and focus required to perform under the continuous scrutiny and non-stop distractions of being a superstar in NYC.

Many have described Derek’s accomplishments as miraculous. I disagree. I believe his accomplishments are primarily formulaic. Like many great over-achievers, Derek was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time during certain times in his career, but he also created his own luck by doing the right things at all times. 

In many of his years with the Yankees, Derek was not the most skilled or the “best” player on the team. He rarely had the highest batting average and never had the most home runs. He was never the biggest or the strongest, and usually not the fastest. However, he was always considered the undisputed leader of the team. Derek was elected Yankee Team Captain at the early age of 29.  Most of his competitors consider him the Captain of Baseball. Leadership oozed from this man.

Derek always led by example. He expected greatness of himself and others, treated everyone with respect, and commanded respect in return. His practice routines, discipline, humility, work ethic, and pursuit of continuous improvement are legendary.  He relished accountability, especially for himself. As a consequence, everyone on his team became a better player. A rising tide floats all boats. His teammates followed him with awe.

Derek’s beliefs, behavior, and mindset, and the remarkable, continuous series of achievements that followed, serve as a model for success in any pursuit. Derek Jeter was the consummate professional. As a professional, he did his job, each and every day. 

Teammates who had a chance to experience Derek Jeter felt fortunate to play on his team.  Competitors felt fortunate to play against him. Fans, writers, and others who witnessed Derek’s consistency and leadership admired him.

Few people achieve their dream. Derek Jeter did. From a very young age, he wanted to do one thing, to play for the Yankees. He did what he loved, and people loved him for it. His desire, commitment, responsibility and outlook were unprecedented. 

Throughout his two-decade career, Derek was not perfect. He failed many times and overcame many injuries and obstacles, but his attitude never wavered.  No matter the setback, he always elected to quickly jump back on the horse to execute his routines and do his job, day after day. And his teammates followed.

As a fan of baseball and student of human behavior and achievement, I feel very fortunate to have witnessed Derek Jeter’s career. He has been a model of consistency, humility, discipline, grace, and performance, demonstrating daily on the world stage how to lead by example, inspire others, and win.

Many articles, and several books, have been written about Derek Jeter. Now that his baseball career has concluded in a spectacular crescendo of glory, I’m sure many more will follow. Unlike 99.9% of major league ball players, Derek Jeter will be elected immediately into the Hall of Fame on his very first ballot election, but his greatness transcends his statistics.  

Derek is finished playing baseball, but I believe his career is just getting started. He does not enoy publicity and does not relish the spotlight, but I think we’ll be hearing tons more about his future accomplishments. Derek Jeter is not only a great player; he is a great man and a great leader.

Every professional, leader, CEO, salesperson, entrepreneur, civic leader, man, woman, and child can learn lessons in leadership, success, and winning by studying Derek Jeter’s career. He is an excellent role model for anyone. Stay tuned and soak it in.


Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2014.   All Rights Reserved.