A Baseball Approach to Management

Learning from America’s Favorite Game

I am a baseball fan.  Although I never used to enjoy the game, I have grown to appreciate the sport more and more – the strategies, the techniques, and the funny rules you don’t often hear about like the infield fly rule.  As I watched a game not too long ago, I listened to the commentators introduce the batting order.  One announcer stated “Managers are always fine tuning their line up.” Though unclear at first, over the course of nine innings the phrase began to make sense.

At the time, I managed a group of bright, intelligent but very unique people.  My team was comprised of wildly different personalities, experience and skillsets.  At one point, I affectionately referred to them as a group of misfits.  I struggled to find ways to manage such extreme diversity and bring the team together.  As the manager, of course, I was responsible for delivering results to the business, and I knew a team identity was needed to create a shared goal of success.

After a day full of ongoing personality conflicts and disagreements, it was America’s favorite pastime that gave me a new perspective of the situation.  Fine tuning a team’s lineup in baseball is significant on many levels.  First, a batting order must consist of all nine players in the game – the team.  Second, the coach tries to alternate left and right handed batters to avoid undue advantage to the opposing team.  Third, and most importantly, the batting order is adjusted for every game depending on the performance of each player – players with consistent hit streaks are up first.  They are followed by power hitters, who are then followed by the weaker hitters and specialty players.  Before each game the manager carefully constructs a lineup that leverages the strengths of each player, and protects against their weaknesses.

During the seventh inning stretch, I began to think about how this little phrase ‘constantly fine tune your line up’ could apply to my group of misfits.  I had the antisocial guy who just wanted to work alone.  I also had the zealous employee who wanted to be involved in everything.  Finally, I had the all-star employee who did everything flawlessly, and got tremendous results.   Oddly enough, outfielders in baseball stand alone on the field, but are there when you need them.  The pitcher initiates every play of the game.  And star first baseman makes a home run look easy.

This thought process gradually drove me to change my approach to managing.  I started to focus on the unique skills of my players, and how their skills truly created an advantage.  Concerning the loner who struggled to work in a team setting, I began giving him more difficult assignments which allowed him to work more independently.  The projects allowed him to thrive in his optimal conditions.  His output increased and as a result, the team as a whole accomplished more.  The go-getter employee was included in more meetings.  The energy he brought into the added activities enabled him to take on a larger workload.  And for my star first baseman, I kept him in front of customers to keep them happy and confident in our work.   He also took over some of my workload, which in turn freed me up for more strategic initiatives.  All of these pieces came together nicely and my team began to have success where it previously struggled.

There are other ways to look at the baseball philosophy – I had an employee struggling at work due to personal issues at home.  I moved him out of his regular ‘lead off’ hitter role and moved him down in the batting order when he needed a lot of time off.  Further, just like in baseball, sometimes I shake things up and put someone in a different spot than normal to stretch them a little and develop their skills.

Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.  Management is about recognizing these traits and fielding the best team every day.   Since that evening, I switched my leadership style to the baseball approach – I constantly fine tune my lineup of team members to have the greatest impact on the business.  Leveraging the skills of your people to best serve the business creates success for your entire team.  So whether you manage the San Francisco Giants or a group of financial analysts, constantly fine tuning your lineup is an approach that can help you become a more effective leader.

Other Resources:

Coaching Employees Through Probing Questions (Blog Post)

Be Sure to BLUF Your Way at Work (Blog Post)

The Power of Incremental Progress (Blog Post)



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