By Tim Hayes

On March 30th, hockey fans in Pittsburgh drew a collective gasp, as Penguins superstar captain Sidney Crosby took an errant slap shot to the face, the puck shattering his jaw, cracking loose a few teeth, and giving him some facial lacerations.  He required surgery to repair the damage, and missed the final few games of the season.

The Penguins seemingly never missed a beat, though, winning eight of their final 10 games without Crosby, and finishing with the best record in the NHL’s Eastern Conference on their way to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Then there’s Andrew McCutchen, superstar center fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who, while not suffering any injuries like Crosby, nevertheless got off to the worst start of his career in April, with an anemic batting average as low as .209, and a 10-game stretch where he went 5 for 37 (.135).

Yet with the same force of will as their cross-town hockey counterparts, the Buccos finished April in first place atop the National League Central Division, winning 15 games in April for the first time since 1992, the last year the team finished with a winning record.

So what’s the point, other than some unflagging devotion to my hometown sports heroes?  Simply this – that a team wins when every member performs, and stays ready to perform on short notice.

The stars can’t be expected to shine all the time.  People suffer injuries.  Lose focus.  Get distracted.  Have their confidence shaken.  So what’s supposed to happen then?  The rest of the team gives up?  Scrambles to find their confidence too?  Not the winning teams, brother.

The great teams – and I’m not just talking about in sports, but in any collection of people with a shared purpose, whether in the business world, the arts, community groups, you name it – work in the collective.  Everyone and anyone must be ready to step up, fill the void, with no lessening of standards or expectations.

Naturally, I learned this truth the hard way.  That’s why I can speak so definitively about it today.

Years ago, my boss had been lined up to lead a community meeting for the state transportation department, where local residents would air grievances, offer suggestions, and then vote on a series of options for a new interchange to be built.  When he fell ill that afternoon, it was too late to call the meeting off, so he passed the baton, as it were, to me.

At that point in time, I was maybe three years out of college and still green as a shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day.  My boss gave me some general instructions, told me where the meeting was to take place, wished me luck, and ran out to his car to drive home before he got even more sick.  Well, somehow we all got through the meeting later without too much drama.  We hit a couple of bumpy patches, but all in all, it came off pretty well.

Then the TV camera found me for a follow-up interview for that night’s 11 p.m. newscast.  And the rookie in me bloomed to full flower.  Flush with relief over the relative success of the meeting, I let my guard down and started giving answers far afield of where the professional boundaries ended.

The bright light of sunshine the next morning illuminated my blunder, as did my boss, whose first words to me as I walked into work were the dreaded, “I need to see you in my office…now.”

I’d let the team down, because I hadn’t prepared sufficiently.  Lack of preparation time, or even the last-minute-substitution nature of the incident?  Neither one mattered.  It was my job to be able to step in at a moment’s notice, and I wasn’t.  But I never forgot that lesson ever again.

Stay sharp.  Look for training and coaching to beef up your knowledge.  Ask for help and guidance whenever you can.  It’s not a sign of weakness to realize you’re weak in some areas.  It’s a sign of maturity, of courage, and of strength.

Copyright 2013 Tim Hayes Consulting