Expert Panel

Focus on these things to succeed in Executive Leadership / General Management

Lessons That Leaders Can Learn From Baseball




Leadership is an important attribute when examining the overall success of any team, whether that be in business, sport or education. Without clear and strong leadership, different factions inside a team can pull in different, conflicting directions, causing the team to perform badly and ultimately fail in its endeavours.


For a business this lack of leadership can result in missed sales targets, demotivated employees and wasted expense. Meanwhile, poor leadership in a sports team results in poor performance, a lack of victories and the associated derision from fans and lack of interest from potential sponsors.


Leadership Myths

Leadership is often confused with being “the boss” or people in a management position. Whilst these often go hand in hand, they are not necessarily always the same people. A leader can be found at all levels of a business, from the cleaner who sets an example by taking pride in their work through to an executive who goes out of their way to praise others and lead by example. When playing a sport, the leader could be the player who is keeping up the motivation of the others when things aren't quite going to plan, or the player complimenting their teammates and setting an example of good sportsmanlike behaviour.


Leadership is not always a permanent role; leadership can be required for just a moment, perhaps when others are unwilling or unable to make a decision at a crucial moment. In such a scenario, anyone who is willing and able to make any decision is in a position of leadership, regardless of the efficacy of the decision itself. As the old adage goes “a bad decision is better than indecision”.


Leadership traits, skills and techniques in business and in sport are often transferable, meaning that they can be applied in both situations to yield success. Here are some examples where the attributes of leadership in baseball can be transferred into business.


Team Work Makes the Dream Work

For those that want to lead their teams to success in any field, whether it be finance, manufacturing or sport, there are a set of lessons that can be learned from the sport of baseball. However, a leader is not enough on their own, they must build a strong team around them that works seamlessly.


By working together they can become greater than "the sum of their parts" and achieve success that would not otherwise be possible. In baseball, the Cleveland Indians have demonstrated this by winning the last three American League Central Division titles, and are favourite to take victory for a fourth consecutive time. They have achieved this through a signing good players that can work well together. Although it seems an obvious tactic to take, it hasn't been the way all baseball teams have been successful. For example, the Cincinnati Reds won the World Series in 1975 with just two or three great pitchers on their team.


In business, just like in baseball, it is important to hire great people and to also ensure that they can work well together. One star employee and a bunch of mediocre ones won’t work if the star employee is unwilling to share the credit, play by the rules or help out their colleagues. Instead, business leaders need to find a balance between the two and set to work in ensuring that the team is as cohesive as possible.


Don’t Curb Your Enthusiasm

People like to be inspired. Inspiration helps to drive motivation in both baseball players and those in business, and it can help to improve results. Inspiration and motivation can be both intrinsic, a natural desire to achieve something, and extrinsic, driven from external factors like a bonus or by seeing others set a positive example. In baseball, leaders must show how excited and enthusiastic they are about winning a game, a pennant or a league in order to inspire the players to deliver what is required to achieve these aims.


This is the same in the world of business, if a company owner or manager is visibly excited by their work it creates a positive culture that can inspire others to want to achieve more. This positivity also helps to weed out naysayers who like to complain about anything and everything; even if they continue to air their dissatisfaction it will be perceived as unwarranted by a motivated workforce who view the leaders more positively.




Lead by Example

An easy way to distinguish between a manager and a leader is that a manager will tell someone what to do, whilst a leader will show them instead. A good leader will be happy to muck in and help out when the circumstances require it. This helps to generate mutual respect and trust within the team. According to Howard C. Fero, author of “Lead Me Out to the Ballgame”, a book on leadership in baseball: if leaders are not afraid to figuratively or literally get a bit of dirt on their uniforms, then other players are more willing to work harder to overcome challenges the team may face.


This approach can be applied to business too. If a senior manager is walking through an office and notices a piece of rubbish on the floor, they have two choices:

  1. Leave it there. The business employs cleaners to pick up rubbish, so why waste time?
  2. Pick it up and take it to a bin as everyone is responsible for keeping their work environment clean and tidy.

Leading by example is option 2, and choosing it helps to demonstrate that no matter what level of seniority a person is at, they should take pride in their work and themselves.


Foster Good Communication

Strong communication is important in all walks of life; strong personal relationships rely on it just as much as do professional and sporting scenarios. In baseball, good communication can help to keep players safe and ensure they play efficiently. For example, if two players are both chasing a fly ball, strong communication between them is required to ensure they don’t bump into each other, potentially injuring them and meaning that neither catches the ball.


In business, this is the same. An extreme example of this is in Korean Air, the airline that had more plane crashes in the 1990s that nearly any other airline in the world. When air crash investigators examined the scenarios of these accidents they quickly ruled out mechanical failures, weather, and other usual suspects. They eventually realised that the problems were down to a breakdown in communication that they attributed to the Korean language and culture, where people speak to their superiors in a manner that is more honorific than in English.


For example, in English you may ask “Would you like a drink?” whilst in Korean you may instead say something like “The weather is quite warm today, ideal for a nice refreshing drink”. This indirect way of communicating led to misunderstandings in the cockpit when copilots tried to question the decisions of the pilot. To foster better communication between their employees, Korean Air introduced new rules that forced all employees to speak in English and changed their business’ hierarchical structure to remove the need to be overly respectful.


There are many ways in which business leaders can learn from those in baseball; driving communication and team working whilst exhibiting passion and leading by example can all be excellent ways to ensure success.




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