Leadership Lessons from Hospital Passes

Sometimes I find leadership metaphors in the strangest places.  

My son played soccer with a local club team for many years.  He used to complain about one of the players on his team, Jason*, who just couldn’t seem to anticipate members of the opposing team closing in on his teammates.  Jason would make a seemingly skilled pass to a fellow player.  However, because of the timing, Jason’s teammate had to receive the pass at an extremely vulnerable point, at a time when he was likely to be met full force by the defender.  The receiver would typically lose possession of the ball.  And, sometimes, despite the team yelling warning cries of “Man On”  (the soccer equivalent of “Watch Out”), the player receiving the pass would be crushed by the unseen defender and injured.  

Later, I learned that among soccer fans, this move has a name.  It was called a “hospital pass” due to the likelihood that the receiver would wind up in an ambulance after it was over.  

In organizations, I have sometimes felt like I had received a hospital pass.  Once, unbeknownst to me, a coworker added me on a meeting agenda to discuss a topic she KNEW was controversial.   Another time, a supervisor asked me to organize an office party when he KNEW someone else wanted to be chosen to lead that cause.   Technically, the instigator can just plead innocence, “I didn’t realize this would be a problem.”  Similarly, the soccer passer could just say, “It’s my job to pass the ball to my teammates….”

Part of being a good citizen in the workplace is avoiding these kinds of set ups.  No one likes being put in a bad state, especially if the entire situation could have been anticipated.  A little foresight, even a well-placed heads up, will go a long way to keeping your workplace environment positive.

* I changed Jason’s name in case his mother ever reads my blog. 

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