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Take a Bigger Lead to Get to the Next Base

by Guest Writter
Howard Fero and Rebecca Herman

The manager of a Major League Baseball team, the manager of a retail store, and the CEO of a Fortune 500 company all have at least one thing in common, they all need to manage a team, and they all need to determine how to get the most productivity and the greatest performance out of their people.  There are many ways to motivate a team, but not all are as successful as others, and one of the reasons for this is if we want to motivate a team we must create a winning culture, and motivation cannot be looked at as a singular occurrence.

Joe Maddon, manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, considered one of the great managers in Major League Baseball, has some unique leadership strategies which have helped to earn him manager of the year honors twice in his career.  His methods are often viewed as unorthodox, but his players respond to them, as well as to him. He is a manager who truly understands how important it is to engage and motivate his team, and does what it takes to do this in a positive, respectful, and fun manner.

One of Maddon’s unconventional tactics are his themed road trips.  Often during the baseball season he organizes themed road trips for the Rays. As the team leaves their ballpark, travels to the airport, arrives at their host city, and checks into their hotel they can often be seen dressed as hippies, cowboys, nerds, and more.

How does this motivate a team to success?  What purpose does it serve?

The simple answer to the question is team building, a team that can have fun, laugh, and relax together will be more comfortable on the field when they need to depend on each other to make a tough play. A more complex answer was given to us by Maddon as well…

A big part is risk taking. I even had one player tell me at one time he loved it because of that purpose. He didn’t say it was risk taking, but he said “I gotta dress in a way that I never do and I feel uncomfortable about it, but once I do it I kinda like it.” And boom, that was perfect, that was a perfect response to me. So now when he goes out and pitches in the 8th inning and the bases are loaded, there might be a little more comfort derived in that moment because he’s taking a risk doing something.”

Motivation to succeed through risk taking, and motivation to succeed through the overcoming of a challenge.  These concepts are certainly not unique to baseball, as we see the need for our employees to take risks on a daily basis.

  • How do your employees handle pressure when they are faced with a challenge akin to pitching in the 8th inning with the bases loaded?
  • Do they have the tools to handle pressure in a way so that they can overcome it and be successful in doing so?

You may not be in a position to have your employees dress up as cowboys, but there are other ways to have your employees developing a sense of comfort with uncertainty and comfort with discomfort so that when the pressure is on they will be ready for it.  Team Building events are effective if they are based around the organization’s overall strategy and fit into the overall culture.  As we said at the beginning of this piece, for an initiative to be effective it can’t simply be a one time thing, and it can’t be contrary to the organization’s culture.  If Joe Maddon was an authoritative leader and didn’t have his players focus on fun while they work and play, a themed road trip would be seen as eccentric.  But since the themed road trips are in line with Maddon’s mantra, they are unorthodox (as opposed to eccentric!), and effective.

What is your mantra?  What can you do to engage your team in a way that will not only inspire, but teach them how to overcome challenges and be comfortable in doing so?


About the Authors

Howard C. Fero, PhD, The Leadership Doc, is a leadership speaker, professor, consultant, executive coach, and co-author of LEAD ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME:  Stories And Strategies To Develop Major League Leadership.  He is the Director of Graduate Leadership Programs and an Associate Professor of Management and Leadership at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, CT, and was recently recognized as a Business New Haven Rising Star.

Rebecca L. Herman, PhD, is a leadership professor, transformational speaker, passionate volunteer leader, baseball blogger, avid photographer, and co-author of LEAD ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME:  Stories And Strategies To Develop Major League Leadership.  Dr. Herman is a Professor of Leadership and Organizational Development for Kaplan University’s School of Business graduate programs.

For more information please visit www.majorleagueleadership.com.

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