Busting Through Curses: Lessons From The Cubs For Leaders

June 21, 2017

There were so many magical moments to come out of the Chicago Cubs winning The World Series for the first time in 108 years, but one of the hidden gems of the evening that resonated for me came during Manager Joe Maddon’s post-game press conference.

Essentially, Maddon said that now that the Cubs had achieved everything and were standing at the top of the mountain, they could strip away so many of the things that have been a burden to the organization – of course, he was talking about “The Billy Goat Curse” and other superstitions that have followed the team for decades. Maddon said he never believed in curses anyway, but a championship meant that the Cubs would never have to talk about it again and get to the “real work” at hand.

This reminded me that, as business leaders, we don’t have “curses” but many times we face the burden of the past. When we’re building companies, there’s a contingent of people who love talking about the good old days non-stop. For them, nothing done today will ever top the good old days with the good old people who used to work there and good old practices that aren’t done anymore.

How Do You Bury The Burden Of The Past?

I’ve heard the expression that “jet engines don’t have rearview mirrors.” Leaders have to keep everyone in the company looking forward. At GForce, in the very beginning of our company, I would tell my team to enjoy the moment because it wasn’t going to stay the same.

That theme of constant change is vital to an organization so your team can get excited about where you’re going and imagine what the company is going to look like in two years, five years and so on. It also prevents them for getting too nostalgic about the past as well.

Change The Expectation

Was it a surreal moment for the Cubs to win it all? Absolutely! Yet, as Joe Maddon alluded to even after he’d managed the Cubs to a championship, the expectation has to shift to one in which they’re going to win again and again and again. There is a high expectation of success that was rarely there before in an organization so often associated with gloom and doom.

In a business sense, every company is going to have hard times that it needs to power through. Part of what helps is when the leader paints a picture of the future, but not in a way that is unrealistic cheerleading. If your company is at $1 million in revenue, it might not be the best to talk about how you’re going to be $100 million in revenue because that might take an awfully long time to reach that figure, if you ever do.

Instead, to keep your goals more realistic, let me use a baseball analogy. If you hit enough singles, eventually a runner is going to come across the plate. So if you’re going to talk about, for example, doubling the size of the company by this time next year, that’s doable only if everyone executes. What do your “singles,” “doubles” and “triples” look like in order to help you achieve your goals? If you set the goal too high or grandiose, people probably won’t buy it.

However, if your goal is the equivalent of a single, double or triple, that’s easy for a team to buy into. In fact, it makes it easier to spot the real home runs among the staff, who can applaud each other’s efforts.

Define And Delegate Roles

On every team, you have players who were born to lead off, natural power hitters, streaky hitters who can be good base stealers and more. The more they focus on what they need to do at that moment when they’re at the plate or on base, the more often good things can happen. They’re not trying to do too much. All they have to focus on is getting on base or stealing a base once some other clutter is stripped away.

Similarly, your team may only need to focus on a couple of priorities for the coming day. If one person is thinking about operations and payroll and timesheets and invoicing, that person needs to have their world simplified. As leaders, our job is to not only simplify but also make sure there isn’t an unnecessary creep of responsibilities. In other words, while your team may be taking initiative on things they’re passionate about, they also have to be performing revenue-generating activities 90% of the time.

Even with a team that displayed remarkable versatility such as the Cubs, each player knew how they fit into the big picture for the team to achieve success. I think that knowledge of roles is the hallmark of a championship team in any sport, actually.

What is your company doing to leave the past behind and move powerfully toward a winning future? Was it challenging to get the culture on board with those moves? How have you evolved your goals and expectations to ensure they’re realistic? We hope you’ll share your experiences with us below.