Creating a World Championship Team

Prior to the first game of the 1964 World Series, a sportswriter asked Yogi Berra, the manager of the New York Yankees, “Yogi, how do you create a world championship team?”  Berra answered without hesitation – “hire world championship players.”  The challenge faced bythe school principal in this cartoon and, for that matter, all organizations is the same as Yogi’s.  All leaders want to have “world champion teams,” and people want to be teammates!  But the question remains how to get there?  How do I find or develop the players?

Leadership is all about defining a vision and then convincing others to follow.  We often spend most of our time as leaders discussing how to maximize the output of the organizations, accomplish our agreed-upon mission and move in the direction of our vision for the future.  Still everyday leaders should ask themselves two questions about their organization.  First, are we accomplishing our mission?   This is fundamental to any organization.  But, second and of equal importance — are we building leaders and successful “ballplayers” for the future?   Successful leaders have to be like Yogi and recruit, develop, and retain “world championship players.”

Sadly, the principal in the cartoon is unlikely to have as much money at her disposal as the New York Yankees.   But there are still many things that can be done in any organization to attract great players and develop that “world championship team.”  Here are some questions that might guide your thinking.

Are we investing in player development?   Successful professional sports programs invest in the development of young players.  Organizations spend enormous amounts of money on fixed capital assets (buildings, computers, software, furnishings, equipment, etc.) but often only spend “pennies” on their “player development.”  How are we encouraging our “players” to develop and improve?

Are we giving leaders “space” to grow?  There is an old saying that “success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan.” World championship players want the opportunity to demonstrate initiative, try new ideas and take risks.  Sadly, too many leaders stifle these efforts by either micro-managing or establishing a climate that will not tolerate any failures.

Who gets the credit when we win?  A successful corporate executive once said that it was crucial to engage in “deliberate deflection of credit.” The members of championship teams know it is all about the “team.” The name on the front of the jersey is far more important than the name on the back!  Still leaders must be quick to promote the individual accomplishments of their “ball players” and do so publicly.  A pat on the back or a simple “good job!” goes a long way and costs next to nothing.

What happens when we lose?  In the last year there was a scandal in Great Britain that resulted in the closing of the British tabloid, News of the World.  Reporters had hacked into the cell phone of a dead teenage girl and many others seeking “salacious scoops.” It was also alleged that the management of the paper had encouraged these efforts.  When Rupert Murdoch, owner of the newspaper, appeared before a Parliamentary committee he was asked if he was responsible.  Murdoch immediately replied “No!” and blamed his employees.  Successful leaders assume responsibility for failure.  They are not complacent about it, but realize that this is a key to establishing trust with their “players.” Players that trust the leadership will stay with the organization.  This mutual trust between leader and follower is the glue that holds organizations together.
Sadly, Yogi Berra never led the Yankees to a world championship as a manager, despite his success as a player.  Still, his words are important to any leader.  Recruiting, developing and then retaining high quality players is essential to the success of any organization.  Napoleon Bonaparte once said that “leaders are dealers in hope.” The members of any organization look to the leader, to not only set direction for the organization, but also to recognize their accomplishments and help them become the leaders of the future.

Dr. Jeff McCausland is Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership and Strategy, LLC. His most challenging and unique leadership experience was leading and commanding 750 troops into the first Gulf War. He is proud to say that everyone came home healthy and safe.

This article is from our January 10, 2012 newsletter. Click here to view all our newsletter articles and features.