The Major League Baseball game at the Field of Dreams revolved around the movie. It was much more than playing at the Field location. There were cutouts of players placed in the corn to appear as if they were walking out of the field. Hidden speakers played the iconic lines that were spoken to Ray in the film. Players wore throwback uniforms and similar players performed as “ghost players” on the original field. The fans and the players all entered the stadium by walking through rows of corn. Signs such as “go the distance” were placed throughout the corn maze. Everyone was quoting: “Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.”
The references to the movie were omnipresent. So, the most astonishing thing I heard about the entire production was that several of the Yankee players had never seen the movie. Ever. I can understand why a 1989 movie might not have been on their watch list initially, but to fly from New York to play on the Field of Dreams and not yet watch it — well, that I cannot understand. To me, this is a failure of leadership.
A big part of your role as a leader is to set the context and prepare your team to be successful. This involves more than teaching mechanics and includes helping your members understand norms, protocols, and culture. If I had been part of Yankees leadership, that movie would have played on the plane ride from New York. I believe it would have provided a much richer experience for the players when they understood the references, the sentiments conveyed in the movie and the reason for all the nostalgia.
As a leader, I have played such roles by preparing delegations to attend a conference, helping staff members understand the expected behavior in a board meeting, or teaching new employees the traditions behind signature events. All these context-setting conversations served to help the team members get the most out of their experiences and to avoid unnecessary blunders.
The next time your team is in a big game — whether that takes place on a field or in a meeting room — ensure that they are coached on the environment in addition to the playbook. A deeper understanding leads to a richer appreciation of the moment.