The importance of focus cannot be overestimated. And channeling your passion into meaningful achievement is one of the toughest things you can do.
Pete Rose, the baseball player with the most hits of anyone who ever played the game, once said, “See the ball, hit the ball.” Sure, Pete!
Think of the challenge: A pitcher stands sixty feet, six inches away from you with the goal of throwing a round object, three inches (seven centimeters) in diameter, past you. In your hands is a round, tapered pole, thirty-two to thirty-six inches in length, otherwise known as a bat. Your goal is to swing the pole and hit the ball only when it enters a small predefined area called the strike zone. (Note: You are referred to as a batter until you actually hit the ball!) In the hand of a professional pitcher, the round object will arrive to meet your bat traveling ninety-plus miles per hour. No wonder even the best batters generally only become hitters in about one-third of their attempts. That’s not a success ratio for which we would compliment a brain surgeon or a litigation attorney.
My colleague and Trust Me co-writer Wayne once attended a reception at the Louisville Slugger Museum where the world-famous bats are crafted. Amid the memorabilia of the museum is a caged area where you can select a pitcher (folks like Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson) who then appears on video on the big-screen monitor and throws a pitch to a stuffed catcher. The radar gun shows the ball (coming from a hole in the video monitor) approaching at ninety miles per hour.
While he was watching this impressive display, former major league pitcher Orel Hershiser came up and overheard him say—as the ball whizzed by—“I could hit that.” To which Mr. Hershiser instantly chuckled and commented, “No, you couldn’t!”
He was right, of course. To hit a baseball requires great skill, a lot of practice, and our favorite word of the moment: focus. Pete Rose remains the all-time master of focus in baseball. It is reported that he could actually pick up the spin of the ball as it left the pitcher’s hand. Therefore he could “read” how the baseball seams were tumbling or curving and detect the kind of pitch that was coming at his bat. Good eyesight? Perhaps. Great focus? Absolutely. Rose was so intent on getting a hit that nothing robbed him of focus.
Achieving such consistent focus is a quality of every effective leader. In his book In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters called focus “sticking to the knitting,” which means that successful companies do not stray far from their central skill. Leaders of excellent organizations keep everyone’s eyes focused on “the ball” by not allowing distractions to drift them away from the core of what they do best.
That’s what we like to call “doing the right things right.”