Two of my passions are managing companies and coaching a Palo Alto Little League baseball team. While seemingly unconnected, the two roles inform and complement each other in surprising ways.
I love the game of baseball. It's the only major sport without a clock, so there's always an opportunity to come back if you are down, and you have to stay focused if you are ahead. It's a game of effort, focus, often tremendous frustration--even for the best players--and one where resiliency is a constant theme and often rewarded.
Resiliency and Wisdom
As a coach, I see kids who previously struggled, suddenly start hitting and fielding like pros. In some instances, they've gotten bigger or started practicing earlier in the season. Other times, they start to recognize situations sooner and have quicker responses. Experience and wisdom begin to pay off.
Similarly, in the world of managing a company, one doesn't have to be a rookie to be successful. The average age for a startup founder is in the mid-30s, with at least 6-10 years of industry experience and a few failures along the way to success. Wisdom helps the CEO identify how to handle a challenging legal situation, a frustrated employee, or the unforeseen challenges that might come up with a product launch.
Attention to Details
A 12-year-old player often rushes to the plate. That unfocused rushing easily leads to a strike out. Before a skilled batter swings, they examine every aspect: their grip, stance, and position of their feet. Taking a moment to know where everyone else is positioned on the field matters. Starting with a deep breath and taking even 10 seconds to comfortably adjust their position sets the player up with the confidence to create a run scoring opportunity.
In business, attending to even the seemingly unimportant details like body language, signals between team members or the energy in the room can create a dramatic organizational shift. A CEO pauses to examine the state of the business, its relationship to the market, and sees opportunities and challenges.
Understand your team's DNA
Everyone needs to play to their strengths. A kid on a baseball team who is really fast but not a great hitter can be valuable as a pinch runner late in the game, or turn their single into a double or triple. It's the same in business. It's important to put each team member on projects where they'll excel. For instance, some great contributors are night owls. If they arrive at 10:00 AM because they're productive late at night, nurture that and find ways for them to thrive in the organization. Know and develop their assets rather than demand uniformity. There is huge value in a diversity of strengths, ideas and perspectives.
Honest, Helpful Feedback
When a batter swings and misses, often a parent will yell, "great swing!" when in fact, it was a poorly timed or poorly set up swing. My job as the coach isn't to say, "terrible swing," but to help the player understand what needs tweaking. A coach's job is to be honest, uplifting, and helpful in making corrections. A star baseball player bats .300, meaning he or she misses 70% of the time. Failing, then learning from it, is part of the game.
It's the same with a company. The most innovative ideas often start with one failed attempt after the next. We encourage everyone, while highlighting what is working and where things need adjustment or radical change. If we always expect perfection, we create an unrealistic environment and prevent experimentation that can be the key to success.
In baseball and in business, being afraid to fail limits one's ability to learn. Learning and then applying that information is the key to growth. Baseball players and employees respond to those who show them how to learn rather than point out whether they did it right or wrong.
Clarity and Belief
As a baseball coach, I focus on teaching and practicing the fundamentals. I promise the kids at the beginning of the season that I will never ask them to practice something that isn't relevant to a game situation. I ask them to practice things they may not be totally comfortable with, but that lead to better performance and explain why.
In a company, it's incumbent upon the CEO and management team to set a clear direction and explain what we're solving so that everyone on the team understands why the priorities exist.
It's never too late to win. You can still hit a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth or you end up winning the World Series after more than 100 years. Markets can change overnight, and so can your business. Stay positive, breathe, and pay attention to the environment in which you are operating. Batter up!!!