With the 2014 World Series games approaching in October, sports fans have baseball on the brain. But baseball is more than just running bases and foul balls: America's pastime can actually be a great teaching tool for today's business leaders.
In their recently released book, "Lead Me Out to the Ballgame" (Major League Leadership Enterprises, 2014), leadership experts Howard Fero and Rebecca Herman interviewed Major League Baseball (MLB) players and managers to discover what lessons leaders can take from the ballpark into the boardroom.
"While our office building likely doesn't look like a baseball diamond, we can find many parallels," said Herman, a graduate leadership and organizational development professor at Kaplan University's School of Business. "In each, there are positions, departments or functions, and walls. People have very specific jobs but must work together to achieve established goals. We don't work in a vacuum, because there is an outside environment that affects business results, such as the challenges and obstacles that we face, the fans who support us, and the competitors who desire to beat us."
Based on their MLB interviews, Fero and Herman outlined three "dimensions" of successful business leadership that mirror successful baseball team management. [5 Simple Ways to Become a Better Leader]
Leading yourself. Regardless of your specific role or position, you must first ensure that you're ready to lead yourself. This, Herman said, is the essence of your "inward" leadership, and this is true in baseball and in business. Set the tone for your organization by exhibiting the behaviors that you desire others to emulate. To earn respect from your colleagues, establish an environment of trust by being honest, fair and consistent.
Leading others. Once you are prepared to lead others, you must focus on people and relationships — your "outward" leadership. Baseball managers are very similar to business managers in that they must both spend time with their people to understand their motivations and strengths, and how to help them reach their potential, Herman said. Truly cultivate relationships with all those that you interact with, so that you can know and understand people on a deeper, less superficial level.
"Often, managers get caught up working in their business and don't set aside enough time to work on their business," added Fero, who serves as the director of graduate leadership programs and a management and leadership professor at New Haven, Connecticut's Albertus Magnus College. "We need to set aside time each day [to] cultivate relationships with our people and connect with them one on one, so that they want to work for us. In baseball, it is easy to become overly focused on the next game, thinking about matchups, pitch counts, etc., but the teams that are successful need to not only focus on the strategy, but also on the people."
Leading the game. MLB managers must lead the game with staffing decisions, teamwork and strategic choices, Herman said, and business leaders must do the same for their companies. Like the professional baseball manager, leaders must understand their industries, their organizations, how the pieces fit together to function as teams and what it takes to create a winning culture. They must know their businesses inside and out, and be able to communicate effectively.
While each of these three dimensions is essential to good leadership, it's important to remember that your people — and your relationships with them — are the foundation of your organization. Baseball managers know this, and spend time motivating each of their players. Fero shared that Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays inspires his players to unite as a team, depend on each other and be individuals. Oakland A's manager Bob Melvin engages and capitalizes on each team member (not just the star performers), and communicates regularly to ensure that they all share and understand his vision.
"It's important for each member of the team to understand their role in the organization's vision and strategic plan," Fero told Business News Daily. "Once they understand this, they will be more apt to embrace the organization's goals and do their part in helping achieve it."
A long to-do list shouldn't be an excuse for not checking in with your team on a regular basis. Find little ways to spend time with your staff and cultivate strong relationships with them, Herman advised.
"Quality time doesn't have to include a formal meeting or going to lunch together," Herman said. "We can forge our relationships by simply saying 'hi.' Inquire about how they are doing, if they are having any challenges or if there is anything we can do to help. A simple greeting or conversation builds bridges for more-complex conversations in the future. As we cultivate relationships, we can lead others to be the best they can be, and that is rewarding for everyone."
Originally published on Business News Daily