It’s spring. And that means baseball season has just kicked off here in the States.

And every year about this time, I’m reminded of the beloved, iconic baseball movie, Bull Durham.

The film tells the story of a minor league baseball team who signs a gifted pitcher, Ebby Calvin LaLoosh, aka “Nuke.”

Problem is, Nuke is immature and undisciplined, and his wild fastball is unreliable. So the team brings on a seasoned veteran, Crash Davis, to mentor him.

In one scene, while the team is on a long bus trip to their next game, Nuke turns to Crash and begins one of the film’s most memorable dialogues:

Nuke: “How come you don’t like me?”

Crash: “You don’t respect yourself, which is your problem. But you don’t respect the game, and that’s my problem. You got a gift.”

Nuke: “What do I got?”

Crash: “You got a gift. When you were a baby, the gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt. You’ve got a Hall of Fame arm but you’re pissing it away.”

Nuke: “I ain’t pissing it away. I got a Porsche already. I got a 911 with a quadraphonic Blaupunkt.”

Crash: “Christ! You don’t need a quadraphonic Blaupunkt. What you need is a curveball.”

It’s a funny scene, but getting past the humor, Crash is speaking a truth that goes beyond baseball: the importance of recognizing who we are, where we are, and what’s expected of us.

A new parent, holding their infant in their arms for the very first time, gets this message right away. They look down, and realize: this changes everything.

In that instant, their priorities, values, and very identity take a hard right turn. Having a child is a major event—it’s hard to miss.

The problem with Crash is that there’s not one sudden moment to help him realize where he is, and what to focus on. Crash doesn’t recognize his job or value his talent.

He’s goofing around, and not developing the self-discipline needed to make it in the Big Leagues. And I see this often in my work with leaders.

Not the lack of discipline, but the difficulty leaders often have in understanding what’s expected of them.

My client, Caleb, was just promoted as the Chief Information Officer for a large food distribution company—his first C-Level job. A few months into it he told me he was frustrated because the CEO wasn’t receptive to the technology upgrades he proposed.

The CEO was old-school, Caleb complained, and needed more evidence and data. I’m just too busy to spend my time gathering the data and evidence needed to support something so basic, he said.

Caleb, like Crash, hasn’t adjusted his priorities to match his status.

What else could Caleb possibly be doing that’s more important than influencing the direction of the company?

Caleb has made it to the Big Leagues but doesn’t see what’s required of him, or rather, he sees it but considers it a distraction.

Another client, Wei, is VP of Finance, with the goal of being CFO within the next 5 years. She is a top performer, and a quiet, thoughtful person. She tends not to speak up in staff meetings even though her expertise could be useful.

Her boss has one piece of constructive feedback: speak up more. But Wei resists. “He’s asking me to change my style,” she explains to me. “My work speaks for itself. I’m quiet, and that’s my style.”

Wei, like Caleb, is missing what’s required in her context. She doesn’t see that her boss actually needs her input.

”Won’t others on the team benefit from your perspective?” I asked. “Isn’t your job, at your level, to help the team make better, more informed decisions by speaking up?”

The outer change of status or rank is easy to see—the new office, the bigger paycheck, the new title—but the inner changes—the new priorities, new behaviors, new set of expectations—these are surprisingly easy to overlook.

The problem is, these new expectations and priorities aren’t found in the job description. Because it’s not about fulfilling the job requirement, but fulfilling the social obligations of your higher rank role.

What’s needed is a rite of passage, something humans have always used to mark major transitions: going from child to adult, from a secular to a religious life, from single to married.

There are countless rites of passage across cultures, but they all have the same purpose: the transformation from your former self to your new self.

It’s marked metaphorically through ritual acts such as isolating yourself, going into the wilderness, or cutting and bathing rituals. In the military new recruits have their heads shaved. Sometimes in rites, there are challenges to endure or altered states to undergo. And then, on its other side, there is a reintegration into life, but with your new identity—a new status.

We need something like that in leadership to mark these less visible transitions of expectations, priorities, and behavior … to mark the “From” and the “To” as we rise in rank.

In particular, we need to find ways to recognize the the following shifts in mindsets:

  • From “It’s about me, my style,” like Wei, to “What do I need to do to help this moment?”
  • From expecting something from others, like Caleb, to understanding what’s expected of you
  • From being seen as an individual to being seen as a representative or symbol of the organization
  • From being a worker to being the owner
  • From being your authentic self to reading the room and deciding how best to show up
  • From looking for feedback and guidance to looking for ways to contribute
  • From thinking about getting the job done to thinking about how to develop others to get the job done.

And this isn’t just true of leaders. All of us, as we go through life—as parents, coworkers, and citizens—should take a gut check every now and then.

We should check in with ourselves. What’s my role now? Has it changed? What are my new priorities? What am I making most important?

Because an increase in rank means understanding your new context, embracing new priorities, and adapting to a new set of expectations.

And it sometimes means shedding the skin of your old identity so that you can grow into your new role.

Thanks for reading.