Derek Jeter Wrote the Playbook for Young Professionals
Like almost every Yankee fan, Derek has been my favorite player over the past 19 years. I had the opportunity to meet Derek in his rookie year, when he was nice enough to sign an autograph during batting practice. I remember, as an 11 year old, saying “Thanks, Derek- you are a future Hall of Famer.” The humble rookie responded, “I don’t know about that kid.”
It is an interaction I will never forget. My praise may have seemed a bit premature, as he was three months into his starting role, but even from his rookie year he displayed a sense of friendliness and humility. No matter where your baseball allegiance stands, young professionals can learn an abundance of lessons from the shortstop. How much Derek Jeter are you in building your business or career?
1. Vision. Jeter knew from a young age that he wanted to play professional baseball and specifically, be the short stop for the New York Yankees. Unless you are from New England or Queens, who wouldn’t? I believe that Derek’s career farewell is so poignant because it is beyond baseball. Tears flowed from mature fans over the past week. When we watched number 2 perform his signature jump-throw, we were watching someone capturing their childhood dream.
Vision statements have become cliché in the professional development space, mainly because they are effective, but a young professional beginning a 20-, 30- or 40-year career, is well served by a compelling vision statement. Your vision statement will guide your decision making and keep you fighting on discouraging days. I don't know if Jeter wrote down on paper what he wanted to accomplish, but no one doubts he was clear on what he wanted his future to look like.
2. Mentor. Jeter has always been cool, calm and collected. His demeanor was similar to his first manager, Mr. Joe Torre. I frequently wonder if Derek’s flawless demeanor, on and off the field, would have been different if a hardhead like Lou Pinella was his manager during his formative years? As a young professional, having the proper mentor to help with on-the-field skills, along with how to handle off-the-field situations, will influence the trajectory for your career.
3. The gift. A mentor and friend of mine, who leads a firm of financial professionals, often talks about how the best leaders and organizations give their people “the gift of high expectations.” Derek played his entire career in the capital of the world. Americans know New York is a tough town that demands the most of its professionals. Derek had the gift of high expectations playing in New York for an organization that gives a ton (of money) and expects a ton (of production) from the players.
Would Derek Jeter have the same legacy if he was a Kansas City Royal? Professionals are forced to keep the foot on the accelerator and be the best version of themselves when they are a part of an organization with teammates who have high expectations.
Related: Why Derek Jeter Is So Admired
4. Forget the other guy. Derek never worried about the other guy. Derek’s legacy was built in an era when many of his competitors were using illegal substances to improve their performance. Derek used talent and work ethic. As a Jeter fan, you would frequently have to go to bat against attacks on #2. How many players did we hear were better than Jeter for the past 20 years?
In all due respect to Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada and Jose Reyes, I think the verdict is now evident. As for other talented players on the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez may have had more pure talent than Jeter but Derek possessed the intangibles, work ethic and integrity. The country appreciated his greatness in his final season while A-rod, a more naturally talented player, was suspended for various elements of dishonesty. As a young professional, you will face plenty of career distractions and competition. Don’t waste time worrying about people and things out of your control. Run your own race.
5. Loyalty and longevity. Many players put in extra effort the year before free agency to spur a bidding war. Jeter spent his entire career in one uniform. Granted, sometimes you need to make changes to advance your career but millennials are changing jobs every 30 months. Loyalty is shown in work ethic, honesty and team spirit alone. Derek built a legendary and loyal career by staying “in the game” and consistently producing.
6. Clutch. When things on the diamond sped up, Derek had an ability to slow the situation down. From game winning bloop singles to right to the iconic flip play against Oakland in 2001, Derek was a winner with his perennial clutch play. He was the guy the organization and fans wanted at the plate when the pressure was highest.
A clutch single in a critical moment means more than a home run in blow-out game. Does your organization want you in the batter’s box when the going gets rough? If not, think of the systems you can build to help you put your best foot forward in high pressure situations. A few people are just born clutch but most of us need to work on it. The more uncomfortable situations you address head on in the professional world, the more you learn about yourself. That knot in your stomach during a stressful situation is simply what we call growth.
7. Do the right thing. What is most impressive about Jeter is that he always does the right thing. He had fun doing his job, was excellent at it and was never caught in a bad situation. He was a team player who put his teammates and the organization ahead of his own goals. I cannot recall one time he has messed up in the public light in 20 years while in the media capital of the world. In your career, when faced with tough decisions you could simply ask, “How would Derek Jeter handle this?” You probably would make the right decision.
Finding a professional athlete that you can model your non-sports career after has been a challenge over the past few decades. More important than Derek's 3,400+ hits, 14 All Star appearances, MVPs and five championships, he wrote the playbook on how the intangibles like integrity are what make young professionals the best version of themselves.
For what it’s worth, thank you Derek for being a professional in every sense of the word.