Refresh, Renew, Reset: Leadership Lessons from Spring Training

Jeffrey J. Anderson

Monday, February 26, 2018

One of baseball’s great traditions, spring training, is upon us again. It’s a wonderfully energizing time – the coaches and players are full of excitement and fans are optimistic. As leaders, what can we take away from the practice of spring training that will help our organizations and own personal development?

How can business leaders capture the excitement of spring training in an environment in which there is never an off-season? When we get buried in the day-to-day demands of our jobs, it’s even more difficult – and necessary – to create time and space to “reset” and begin again.

Taking cues from spring training, here are a few ways business leaders can breathe some fresh air into their organizations.

Set the tone

Joe Maddon, one of the best leaders in baseball, sets a new theme for the Chicago Cubs during spring training every year. In 2016, the theme shifted during the season, starting with “Embrace the target” in the spring and landing on the more lighthearted “Try not to suck” as the season wore on. More recent themes have included “Don’t forget the heartbeat,” to remind players of the human part of the game, and “Be uncomfortable,” a mantra to encourage players to stretch their skills. The role of the coach or the leader is to engage others, bind the team together, and establish a winning environment and culture.

Even the best teams have room to improve, and the competition never stops getting better. Setting a theme focuses everyone on a common goal, and when the work starts to get tough, helps remind everyone what they’re working toward.

Embrace the future

In baseball, past seasons are gone. What happened last year doesn’t matter anymore. Every team needs to focus on the needs and challenges of the upcoming season.

The same is true for business. Many companies fail because they follow the same pathways for too long and can’t let go of the past. Look at your organization, your team, and your strategy with fresh eyes. Identify where your talent is and where your holes are. Try to spend less time on details and instead, take the time to get a sense of the big picture and articulate your strategic vision. Be willing to make major changes to meet your goals.

Focus on the fundamentals

In the midst of a long season, even the best athletes can get sloppy. The same applies to the world of business. What always amazes me is the amount of time that is spent in spring training on the basics – things that professional baseball players have been doing since they were 10 years old. When was the last time you took time with your team to refocus on the basic building blocks of leadership?

Business leaders need to be able to experiment and innovate in an easygoing environment where failure is OK and is considered a natural part on the path to success. Leadership teams need to take the time to meet in an unhurried manner, no matter how intense the business is. They’ll have the opportunity to learn from each other and to bond without taking themselves too seriously. It really is all right to enjoy what we are doing.

Reconcile individual goals with team goals

Every player, like every employee, has their individual goals that they are striving to achieve. It’s the coaches’ (leaders’) role to make sure that these individual goals mesh with the organizational goals. It starts by having a deep relationship with your team members and knowing what they are striving for. If we are really honest, we rarely have those kinds of conversations in the world of business. Could you imagine being a baseball manager and not knowing what each players was hoping to accomplish? Honestly, it is our job to help people achieve more than they thought they could.

Make the time

Spring training is about making your team better. It’s essential to have the self-awareness to know when you need to refresh yourself, your team, your goals, and your strategy. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself locked into a pattern of daily execution with no reflection. It’s one of the major reasons why businesses go off the rails.

I’ve known leaders who set aside some time each month for the leadership team to do something fun together. Individuals need to address challenges outside the work environment. Volunteer activities like sitting on the board of a non-profit can also provide a wonderful platform to try out ideas and network with others.

The most important thing is to take the time, as often as you need it, to revive yourself, your team, and your business with a little of the magic and energy that comes from spring training.

Grasp the magic of the spring to make a difference for your business!

Jeff Anderson, President & CEO, LFGSM

Jeffrey J. Anderson is the 5th President and CEO of Lake Forest Graduate School of Management (LFGSM). Prior to joining the School in October 2014, Mr. Anderson served as an Associate Dean for Leadership Development at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. At Booth, Anderson harnessed his business experience to bring a practical, proven perspective to the leadership development curriculum.

Mr. Anderson is also a co-founder and partner at The Chatham Group, a consulting advisory firm that he launched in 2003. He has worked with senior executives in the distribution, consumer product, energy, investment banking, consulting, telecommunication and automotive industries. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


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