Play ball! Hello again, loyal leaders, Capt. Fletch here for another riveting edition of the Leadership Toolbox. Last month, we looked at the importance of finding and preparing your replacement in the organization. This month, I would like to look at something easily overlooked: positivity.
Now, logically, with spring here you can expect plenty of examples from baseball as my team is now in season! Our team struggled a bit out of the gate and faced some tough opponents. Truth told, we were not playing for the man beside us or up to our full potential.
A good friend of mine and head coach at another school gave me great advice recently that changed things dramatically. Coach T, as I will call him here, reached into his old bag of stories and told me about Cal State Fullerton in 2004. George Horton managed the team at the time. Legend has it, at the midpoint of the season the team had a 15-15 record — not exactly stellar. Coach Horton had a psychology professor friend with whom he regularly had lunch. The professor asked the coach, “Is there anything your team does well?” Horton reluctantly rattled off a few things. The professor challenged Coach Horton to spend two weeks focusing only on the positives, no matter what happened. Cal State Fullerton won the next 32 of 38 season games and eventually that year’s College World Series title.
You might have the same thought both Coach T and I did: There’s no way he was all sunshine and rainbows every day. However, “positive” does not mean there will not be moments of correction. Rather, you approach those corrective moments from a positive place rather than a negative one. People can easily live in negativity. Think about any project you worked on. How many times can you recall actively taking time to think about and acknowledge the positives on the job? If you are like me, probably fewer than you would like. Humans seem to look naturally for the worst in things and seeking the positive sometimes seems to be a tall order.
Coach T called and told me this story the day after his team handed us a pretty good beating. He wanted to make sure I, a young coach, was okay, and not discouraged over tough days and taking it out on my team. I already respected the man for the friendship we had built over the last year, but he went the extra mile to step up and mentor me.
The next day, I told the Fullerton story to my team before practice and gave them the same challenge. I also implemented a system where players earn poker chips for good things, win or lose, after every game. It became a fun Vegas-style complement to our team motto: Play with a chip on your shoulder. Play like you have something to prove.
Something happened to my players over the ensuing 10 days or so. They were not the same team. Suddenly, everyone was playing for the player next to him. Everyone focused on the next pitch, no matter what had happened on the previous pitch. If a player started to hang his head or get down, teammates quickly told him to snap out of it and move on. The team won three out of four games the first week they tried this new mental approach. That including taking the reigning state champions to extra innings before falling by just one run.
The funny thing? The positive approach has spilled into other aspects of my life. I find myself stopping and thinking about things that normally might irritate me. Instead of a negative reaction, I try look for the positive. Imagine if we took this approach on our jobsites. Construction work can be grinding and contentious. When issues arise on a project — as they often do, costs and time go up and profitability goes down. This makes our industry highly susceptible to negativity.
What if we slowed down and took time to look at the good things about our projects and teams? Would we become more efficient? Would we have fewer safety issues?
What if we slowed down and took time to look at the good things about our projects and teams? Would we become more efficient? Would we have fewer safety issues? Would we retain employees and foster long-lasting business partnerships? Positivity does not solve all of the issues in the world or even the jobsite, but I do consider it a catalyst for success.
I am not sure what the rest of the season holds for my team. I enter every game hoping for the same thing: play hard regardless of the outcome and be thankful for the opportunity to play the game. I would be lying, however, if I did not say my hopes are high for this team that fully embraced the power of positivity. It’s a small sample, but after four really good ballgames it looks to me like this is not just a fluke. It really does work.
What do you have to lose by giving positivity a shot on your teams? Worst case, you have a more pleasant work environment. Best case, the entire team embraces the concept and, suddenly, you have a brand-new team. Give it a try. You just might find yourself on a hot streak!
Until next time, Fletch over and out.