Lessons From The Dugout

You’ve probably heard someone draw the comparison before, “Business is a lot like baseball.” In fact, it’s practically a cliché. I would venture a guess, however, that you’ve heard it from more from business professionals than you have from pro baseball players. I happen to have been both, and take it from me… business is, indeed, a lot like baseball. There’s teamwork, trust, relationship building, and the need to find one’s own inner motivations in order to be successful – all things we will cover in upcoming installments of this article series. I’ve been an extremely fortunate man.

Yesterday, I had the honor of being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Last year, I was named Chairman of the Advisory Board of Company.com, the tenth fastest-growing privately held company in the U.S. according to Inc Magazine. There are so many parallels, so many skills and traits and lessons along the way, that it’s impossible for me to separate the concept of success in baseball from the concept of success in business.  Instead, I’d like to shed even more light on the common threads between them. In this first installment of the article series, I’d like to focus on a critical skill that I have used successfully in both business and in baseball.

Lesson 1: Listen To Management

A day after my Hall of Fame induction, I can think of no more relevant lesson to share than this one. Because I truly believe that if I hadn’t listened to some advice from my manager ­– advice that was frankly difficult to hear – I would never have had the successful career that I did. And I certainly would not be a 2016 inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It came soon after being drafted by the Dodgers. A team manager pulled me aside and told me something I really didn’t want to hear: That I wasn’t going to make it as a first baseman. I could have reacted with anger, or frustration, or worse, stubbornness.

But instead, I listened to what he had to say. This man had decades more experience in the game than myself. He had seen hundreds of players come and go – some successful, some not. As I forced myself to really listen and consider what I was being told, it started making sense. I was drafted in the sixty-second round and there were two extremely talented players drafted well in front of me.  The chances of me taking the field as a first baseman for the Dodgers was miniscule. After the shock, after the disappointment, came the opportunity. “Now, what we do need”, he told me, “is a catcher.” The rest, as they say, is history. Twenty-eight years later, here I am, a Hall-of-Fame catcher. This lesson is relevant today, not only because of my Hall of Fame induction, but because I now find myself on the management team in business.

And I see the same story play out time and time again – sometimes with positive results, but oftentimes the less experienced can’t see past their dignity to truly listen. To this day, I’m on the receiving end of words I don’t necessarily want to hear from those with more experience, more knowledge, and more success. And to this day, as I listen, I find the opportunity within the message. This is my first Lesson from the Dugout: Listen to Management.

Whether you’re in a corporate structure being coached by superiors, or you’re an entrepreneur being coached by your investors, it is imperative to your success that you listen. This doesn’t mean follow blindly. This doesn’t mean they’re always right – but it means you should be open to the idea that they could be.

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