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3 Management Lessons from the Baseball Park

My brother loves baseball. Always has. In fact, he now coaches a baseball team in a league sponsored by the American Legion in Minnesota. On a recent visit, I had the opportunity to attend one of his games. I climbed into the bleachers that day, truly excited about watching my brother and his team in action. The smell of popcorn and hot dogs filled the air, and enthusiastic fans were cheering wildly for the high school and college-aged players. At some point, I began to watch the coach standing to the side. As the batter prepared for the pitch, the coach shouted out instructions in the form of short, simple phrases. Fast and direct. “Wait for it.” “Stay loose.” “Look low.” Considering all the external distractions and the speed of the game, this technique was very effective. What could we learn from that?

  1. Use clear, concise communications

That’s a pretty good lesson for all of us, whether we are on the baseball field or in the conference room. Couldn’t we all benefit from quick, direct feedback from our managers? Leaders who apply this type of get-to-the-point approach have a real edge when it comes to improving the performance of their teams.

I continued watching this special interaction between the batter and the coach. Many times I could see the batter was in deep concentration, intently focused and “in the zone.” If the coach had rattled off detailed instructions, the batter probably would have lost his concentration or just tuned it all out. Short commands were essential.

  1. Know when to say nothing

On several occasions, the coach never said a word, as if he intuitively knew that the player was ready and needed the mental space to anticipate the pitch. Saying anything at all could have been very disruptive. Or even disastrous.

In the corporate world, the most successful leaders know how to “read” their team members and provide the right kind of guidance at the right time. Sometimes that means having confidence in their abilities and giving them the space to achieve their goals without interfering or micromanaging. (If they are in the zone, let ‘em play ball!) Other times, that means delivering the appropriate amount of feedback—enough to help them avoid or correct any problems, but not so much that it causes confusion or unnecessary distractions. Just like a winning coach, a great leader knows how to find that balance.

  1. Remember that timing is everything

After studying all of the action at home plate, my attention shifted to the outfield when I heard the noisy crack of the bat, launching the baseball high into the afternoon sky. Three of the outfielders began simultaneously racing toward the area where the pop fly was likely to land, each one running full out while looking straight up to track the ball.

That’s precisely when the coach yelled out one, perfectly timed word: “Communicate!” The players instantly knew they needed to expand their focus and determine which one of them had the best chance to catch the ball. When the right fielder called “Mine!” and took ownership, the other two players pulled back to give him space and avoid a collision. One targeted word at the right moment fueled amazing teamwork.

Even if your summer doesn’t include a little time at a baseball game, I hope you’ll remember the powerful feedback model demonstrated by these insightful coaches and talented young players. Short, simple instructions given at just the right time (or occasionally saying nothing) could be the best strategy to help your team hit a corporate home run.

Have you used this technique in your organization? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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