JUPITER, Fl. (KMOV.com) -- Spring camp has a different feel for the Cardinals in 2017. Things are looser, more inclusive. The mix of veterans and rookies comes easy and the comfort between players is visible even to those less familiar with a clubhouse dynamic.
It was noticeable to Tuesday’s guest at camp, leadership author and professional speaker John C. Maxwell.
Maxwell has met several Cardinals before, and was part of a leadership meeting with the Cardinals last spring. Manager Mike Matheny was a longtime reader of Maxwell, and arranged for him to come to previous camps through a mutual friend. Tuesday, the Cardinals held an optional leadership meeting with Maxwell speaking and taking questions.
“I said ‘I didn’t know if it was going to be me and you sitting there talking together.’ but I had plenty to talk about and ask,” Matheny said.
Instead, the crowd of attending players was so big they filled the room and spilled out into the hallway.
“They were engaged, which was cool. They asked some really well thought out questions and it was just very special for our club to be able to experience that,” the manager said.
Maxwell noticed a different vibe from the team immediately. He told Matheny he sensed a better dynamic.
It’s an important change from last season, in which the idea of leadership was less organic. Matheny has always valued a leadership core, a group of veteran players to help guide the club’s direction. The idea is to identify players who have the experience and wisdom to lead, who have “seen what championship teams look like from the inside,” Matheny said.
While eligibility for such a role is generally based on service time, Matheny said he made the misstep of trying to pick potential leaders, rather than letting them emerge.
“Last year I made the mistake of kind of singling out guys,” he said. “Now, just like we’ve done all spring, it’s opt-in on some of the work and development. Whether it’s personal development or if you’re thinking of yourself as a leader, I don’t think we can understate the value of what that means.”
Allowing for universal inclusion was an important lesson to learn. The unintended consequence of handpicking candidates for leadership is the alienation of those not chosen. Some won’t mind, as they’d prefer to embody a familiar St. Louis refrain and simply “go about their business.” Others may feel slighted, especially if they believe they have the makeup necessary to excel in such a role.
“I was fortunate that a few of them said, ‘I would have liked to be a part of that,’” Matheny said when discussing his change from last spring.
Plenty opted in to Tuesday’s session, further indication that 2017’s camp is a more comfortable for all in involved.
“It feels like a family,” Randal Grichuk said early in spring. “Everybody getting along, communicating, joking, having a good time.”
That’s an environment that rarely exists without leadership, someone- or multiple someones- with the comfort and confidence to let things happen naturally. It seems some lessons were taken to heart.