Dear Manager,

It’s been suggested (at least by me) that one of the highest priorities in management is to surround oneself with exceptional people. I feel we’d have to agree that in essentially every case, the very best organizations we’ve observed flourish within this single advantage. I’d suggest, then, that the second priority (to use a classic real estate term) would be to put these resources to their “highest and best use.”

While having the very best people in a significant position of strength in ones organization does not insure success, it’s my primary criteria for evaluating the potential of a company. While some companies can certainly stumble their way along in first generation, others are debating the nuances of sixth generation. This is what we all strive for. While both may succeed, the contrasts are palpable.

I’d like to approach this month’s issue based on the assumption that we have, in fact, achieved nirvana and our exceptional team is now in place. Now that this is the case, it’s time to move our focus to their highest and best use.

Play Ball!

I’ve always been a big baseball fan. While many may describe the game as slow, once the nuances and heritage are fully understood, it truly becomes a glorious reflection of life, sport, and competition. As long-time readers can attest, I often find analogies between sports and business; baseball is no exception. What other sport relies more on individual competition, the pitcher, the hitter, and eight other players waiting to assist should they be called upon? The intensity of the confrontation between pitcher and batter has even been compared to a medieval clash of knights.

As a big Seattle Mariner fan, and occasional Yankee fan (the last few years more occasional than not) I’ve taken a great interest in the managers of both teams in the 1990s: Lou Pinella and Joe Torre. Both are former Yankee players with traditions, levels of success, and championships seldom heard of in sport. There must be some lessons to be learned here.

As I watched Lou’s Mariners one season set or tie records for most wins in the history of the game, I began to wonder what the magic was. What was it that created this obviously special team? While the Mariners had a crew of very good players, the true super stars were nowhere to be found. What was the secret?

Certainly good fortune graced this team with members who enjoyed and truly believed in one another. Yet, it was clearly Lou who became the glue for this historic season. His sense of timing and his outright respect for each and every player was an amazing motivating force. In one breath, his frankness about a player’s current poor performance was awash with indignant confidence in this same individual’s ability to compete and succeed the next time he was called upon, most likely when the game was on the line.

Over the season, in literally dozens of instances, I’d see Lou make unconventional strategic decisions that would consistently work in his favor: a player in a hitting slump asked to pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth hits a home run; a call to the bull pen for a pitcher who’d been creamed in their last three consecutive appearances shuts out the opposing team; leaving the slowest runner on base in a “must score situation” and seeing him pull off a double steal when he hadn’t stolen a base all season. All of these decisions were made when the game was on the line. I watched all this with my laymen’s eye thinking, “OH NO, not him, not now of all times!!” Boom, we’d win.

These players knew that Lou absolutely believed in them, often more than they could have possibly believed in themselves. When we dig deep as a manager, knowing the organization can only win as a team, it becomes evident that we must first and foremost instill our confidence, and then rely on the team. Lou couldn’t throw a strike, steal a base, or hit in the winning run, but he can build the confidence in a team that will.

Countless times a player who’d been asked to always be prepared was put in at a critical moment and achieved well beyond their historical or typical performance. This decision alone, regardless of the outcome, instilled confidence that only one’s manager can possibly provide. With time, these situations became commonplace, the parties involved simply knew that a successful outcome was imminent. And consistently it was.

What an amazing lesson for all of us. We often let sleeping dogs lie as it relates to our key staff members. Are we using these staff members to their full potential? Are there areas of expertise untapped due to our confidence in their current role? Could members of our staff find themselves underutilized and unfulfilled in their current role? Are we giving these fine-tuned assets of our organization our personal time to assess our collective needs? Finally, have we recently acknowledged their value in word, deed, or a personal note of sincere thanks?

What Position Can I Play, Coach?

Have you ever considered mixing up the duties of your staff on occasion? Beyond their gaining a greater understanding of yours and others’ roles, this can certainly become a great insurance policy against future unexpected events or loss of staff members. How can you better understand ones strengths or capacity without testing their limits? How can you possibly show your confidence in your sixteen-year-old with a new driver’s license without handing them the keys to your favorite sports car? How can one show their commitment and dedication to you, having never fully been put in a position of ultimate trust?

Please, Coach, Just Give Me the Ball . . .

The summer I graduated from High School I worked at a grocery store in the produce department (as I had for a number of summers). The produce manager was going on vacation, and I was the only assistant he had. I begged him for the chance to manage the department in his absence. This was a good-sized store, and I remember a significant reluctance from the store’s manager. But I had my department manager’s support. The store manager reluctantly agreed, and I was sent up to the plate.

Rather than my usual 6:00 AM to 3:00 PM shift, I’d show up at 3:00 AM each morning with the store’s alarm code in hand. By the time the store manager arrived around 8:00 AM, I had the department well in hand. By the time the doors opened at 9:00 AM the produce department sparkled (if I do say so myself). I was on a mission, always staying late to complete the next day’s ordering. I tried to be as nonchalant as possible with regards to my efforts, never letting anyone know of my extra hours. This became my victory, not for anyone else, simply to prove to myself I could do it. Clearly, this vivid memory suggests how meaningful this opportunity was to me at the time. Have you any consistent parallels in your own life, or in your management of others?

Tell Me Again, What’s My Job Description?

Think in terms of how our own or our staff members’ job descriptions have evolved over the years. Was this by design, or simply determined by needs defined at a different place in time? When was the last time you individually met with staff members to determine their (current as compared to former) desires, interests, and observations of their positions within your company?

Surrounding yourself with the very best is only the opening day in establishing your lineup card. Positioning, confidence, and reassessment are all part of winning the series.

Personal Regards,


INTERPERSONAL© is published by INTERPERSONALBIZ.COM, Keenan Longcor, Editor, ©2011. Duplication of this publication is permitted for both personal and business use. Excerpts may only be quoted with acknowledgment of INTERPERSONAL/INTERPERSONALBIZ.ORG as the source. For re-publication rights, please contact the editor at KEENAN@INTERPERSONALBIZ.COM