With the Chicago Cubs set to embark on their first World Series game at Wrigley Field in 71 years tonight, I’m reminded of how sports is a great platform for lessons in business management. After all, professional sports is a business, and like any business, the organizations that run the teams are required to take part in the same sort of decision-making required of any conventional business.
The same goes for the teams on the field. Team-oriented sports provide great lessons for leaders running teams of their own in a more traditional business environment. And as a Cubs fan, I can’t help but be impressed at the approach the team’s manager, Joe Maddon, has taken with this year’s Cubs to get them to the World Series.
As I mentioned in my earlier column about the Cubs’ culture, Maddon is sort of an untraditional baseball manager. Among other things, he’s been known to invite magicians and zoo animals into the players’ locker room before games. And although he’s been in baseball as a coach or player his entire professional career, Maddon embodies a sort of Zen-like style to how he coaches his team and teaches his players to perform.
To this end, Maddon has coined a number of sticky sayings, such as “Do simple better,” or “Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure,” or — as the Cubs entered the 2016 season with expectations of being the best team in baseball — “Embrace the target.” Each saying serves as a profound lesson intended to keep his players focused over the course of a 162-game season. Maddon’s sayings — known as “Maddonisms” — have become so popular that they’ve made T-shirts for them.
But it is perhaps one of Maddon’s famous sayings in particular that I believe is most relevant to today’s top business executives: “The process is fearless” or “Respect the process.”
When it comes to performance, either in sports or business, it’s easy for people to become obsessed in outcome-oriented thinking, where the desired goal becomes the center of someone’s train of thought. But, according to Maddon, a more productive line of thinking is to focus on the process — the little things that, if done the right way, will eventually lead to the desired result.
Take, for instance, the goal, or outcome, of winning 103 games over the course of a 162-game season, something the Cubs accomplished this year. If a baseball coach based his everyday decision-making with the outcome of winning 103 games front and center in his mind, the pressure to win more than 100 games would muddy much of his thinking, likely leading to undesirable results. Managers should instead focus on a routine set of principles and actions that are believed to be essential for success over time, not any specific outcome.
Business leaders are often steeped in short-term, outcome-based thinking. Hitting a quarterly earnings target; growing same-store sales by a specific amount; cutting costs by a specific percentage by a specific date. But for companies to thrive much like the Cubs did in 2016, business leaders need to remain disciplined in determining their firms’ process for reaching their goals.
Outcomes, in business and in sports, are often difficult to predict. Sometimes a decision results in the desired outcome, other times it doesn’t. What’s important is for leaders to stay focused on outlining what process they’re going to use to accomplish their long-term goals and not wavering on that process, even if the short-term outcomes along the way are discouraging.
Setting lofty long-term goals is something every business leader and company should do, but not at the expense of maintaining a present-focused perspective on the process it will take to achieve these goals. The Cubs and Joe Maddon are just one example of an organization that has found success focusing on process-oriented thinking. Business leaders should aim to do the same.
Frank Kalman is Talent Economy’s Managing Editor.
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