Leadership Corner is an occasional series in which Oregon Executive MBA alumni board members and others share their insights on management, strategy, and leadership. In this installment, Manish Sinha, MBA '98, describes how seeing kids solve a sticky problem on a baseball field made him think about different styles of leadership. Currently based in Pittsburgh, PA, Sinha is the chief information officer of ANSYS, a high-tech business that uses multi-physics simulation to enable engineers and product designers to realize their product promise before the product is built or even prototyped. Prior to his position at ANSYS, Sinha was Asia CIO and managing director at UBS, the Swiss global financial services company. He currently serves on the University of Pittsburgh's Industry Board, a collaboration of the university's department of computer science and leaders in industry.
On a recent weekend in Pittsburgh, I took my daughter to a baseball game where her school team was playing one of their archrivals. While at the game, I witnessed an interesting sight that taught me something about culture.
There were about twenty kids on the field with 30 to 40 spectators. The spectators were mostly parents of kids, as well as friends and other family members. There were some dog droppings on the field somewhere in the direction of third base but deep in the field. It was annoying because the kids were getting ready to play a very important game. Not surprisingly, the parents were equally upset and concerned.
As I watched, I noticed that there were three types of conversations going on between the parents. The first set of parents did not even see the issue on the field. They may have seen it but decided not to do anything about it. The second set of parents were telling the kids to watch out. They were very diligent about making sure every child knew so that no one stepped in it. The third group was very upset, commenting “if only the dog owner would clean up after their pet”—like the posted rules said.
After a few minutes, I saw magic happen. The kids went inside the dugout and came out with a piece of cardboard. They hunted for a few sticks and scooped up the the unwanted organic waste, disposing of it in a nearby garbage bag.
That was it. The field was clean, and the game began with no delays.
The parents, of course, noticed what had happened and seemed to feel slightly embarrassed that they had not done anything but complain.
I saw four types of behavior in action at the baseball game. Everyone saw the same problem, but acted totally differently.
- The avoiders: parents who saw the problem but decided to ignore it. They were probably hoping that their child would not play near third base.
- The communicators: parents who identified the issue and made sure they communicated well to every child.
- The complainers: parents who complained that if only everyone followed the rules, then this issue would never have occurred.
- The leaders: kids who took ownership of the problem and drove a solution.
This was not a problem caused by the kids, but they solved it, showing real teamwork in action.
The question I have been asking myself as a result: When problems happen in our world, how do we behave? Are you the person who avoids or communicates or complains about problems? I am sure there are lots of people who lead, taking ownership and driving the problem to closure. What would happen if more people were in the lead category? We could potentially solve problems even before they became an issue.
Sometimes kids teach us the best lessons.