Lead with your head and your heart: People need to feel appreciated and valued for their contributions

Have you seen the movie “The Million Dollar Arm?” It is based on a true story about J.B. Bernstein, a sports agent who was once very successful and now finds himself unable to compete with deep pocket competitors.

J.B. and his partner Ash are facing the likelihood of closing their business down for good when he comes up with an idea while watching a cricket game played in India on TV. It is one of those aha moments…an idea crazy enough that it just might work!

This is a movie that demonstrates the success that can come when leaders invest in their people, develop their talent, genuinely express gratitude and help them feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves.


In the story, J.B. Bernstein decides to recruit the next baseball pitching star from India. He convinces an investor to fund his dream. He travels to Mumbai with a scout and creates a televised nationwide competition called “Million Dollar Arm.” Over 40,000 young men compete before he discovers two winners. They are Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel.

He has a vision – a creative vision that will guide his decisions moving forward.


J.B. returns from India with the two 18-year-olds and engages the legendary pitching coach Tom House to train with them. The goal, of course, is to get the young men ready to be signed by a major league team, which will create a significant financial reward for J.B.


As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that J.B. sees these young men as a business investment. He takes no interest in them as human beings. As they struggle with both the game and living in a foreign country, his focus is only on developing their skills for his benefit until he is challenged by a woman who lives next door and witnesses how he interacts with the young men. She recognizes that they are feeling isolated and objectified.

She believes in J.B. She recognizes something good in him and pushes him to recognize the greater possibilities. With her persistent encouragement, we witness a transformation occur in J.B.

After a failed premature tryout for the young men with scouts from 20-plus teams, J.B. realizes that his focus has been about his needs, with no thought to the cost for the young men. We witness a slow conversion as he realizes that his focus on himself leaves him feeling empty and the young men feeling discouraged and afraid.

Greater purpose

He begins to focus his attention on Singh and Patel as human beings, expressing his belief in them and his gratitude for the sacrifices they have made. He encourages them with the knowledge that their success will influence thousands of boys in India who will want to become baseball players and have the opportunity to provide security for their families, as well.

J.B.’s ability to genuinely care for the young men he brought from India was the missing piece that ultimately resulted in their successful tryouts and invitation to join the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team as the first Indian players.

Lessons learned

Leadership is more than vision and strategy. It is through people that we accomplish our goals. Recognize that as leaders, we have the opportunity to focus on individual and collective strengths. In order for others to be inspired to do their best work, they need to feel as though their work has meaning.

There is a story about a man who is walking around a building under construction. He asks one of the workers, “What are you doing?” The response is, “I am laying brick.” When he asks the same question of another worker, the response is, “I am building a cathedral.” Which of the two do you think will do his best work?

Like with J.B., we need to connect with the people we expect to carry out the vision and strategy. They need to feel appreciated and valued for the contributions they make.

We are all on this journey together. No matter what our role, no matter our work, we want to live lives that are meaningful and make a difference.

Who will you coach today to know that he or she is making a difference? Who will you express gratitude to for the contribution that he or she is making?

Karen Vernal is the president of Vernal Management Consultants LLC, a Milwaukee-based leadership and organizational firm dedicated to “igniting the spirit and skills of leaders.” The company is one of two firms in the nation to be certified in Emotional Intelligence through the Institute of Health and Human Potential. For additional information, visit www.vernalmgmt.com.

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