Baseball, Sales and Life: The Musings of Joe Torre

Edition: April 2002 - Vol 10 Number 04
Article#: 1216
Author: Repertoire

Given its generally slow pace, baseball leaves plenty of time for musing. New York Yankees Manager Joe Torre recorded many of his musings about baseball, business and life in his 1999 book Ground Rules for Winners (copyright©1999, Hyperion, New York). Torre, a former major leaguer and Manager-of-the-Year award winner, believes that in many ways, baseball reflects life itself. And, Repertoire being Repertoire, we think the metaphor can be extended to sales. Here are some of Torre's observations.

Managing the Long Haul

In football… a season of sixteen wins and no losses is conceivable – it's been done. In baseball, you're considered a wild success if you lose fewer than 60 games in one season. In 1998, my players, coaches and I woke up with that gnawing feeling of defeat on fifty mornings, yet this was the year in which we broke the major league record for most victories (125) in a season. Baseball's 162-game schedule – the ''grind'' I have known for thirty-two years – is in fact much closer to the daily lives of most people. You get up every morning, do your best, take small steps forward, suffer setbacks that obscure your long-term progress, fight off hassles and obstacles, and once in a blue moon, you actually achieve a goal that's been the stuff of your dreams. Then, with the world's permission, you can call yourself a winner. But only you know how many small triumphs and snarls went into that big victory, how many months, years, or decades of sweat and sorrow preceded that breakthrough. That's baseball, and that's life.

Being Yourself To get the most out of yourself, you must know yourself – your strengths, your limits, your potential. Stay within yourself, but recognize that within those bounds there is no telling what you can accomplish. Don't be reckless in your pursuit of individual and team goals, but don't be afraid to make mistakes, either. Accept these paradoxes – you can acknowledge your limits and yet exceed all expectations; you can be disciplined and careful in your work habits, but fearless as you strive to realize your highest potential. Self-knowledge plus maximum effort is a valid formula for success.

Maintaining Serenity In baseball, a hitter mired in a slump can belt a home run on any pitch. A team on a prolonged losing streak can always win that day's game. In business and life, the best way to overcome a pattern of failure or loss is to refocus on today. How can I achieve my goals in this meeting, with this client, in this moment? How can I prepare myself mentally and emotionally for the challenge I will encounter today? How can I change my approach to get the most of my talents right now?

Building Faith in Yourself Few of us are superstars. We have our gifts, but none so golden that we can be placed into that lofty realm. We should hold ourselves to the highest standards, but these standards should be appropriate to who we are. In order to build faith in ourselves, we must have a realistic sense of our talents, not an inflated one. If a career .250 hitter feels he ought to win the batting title, he's setting himself up for a blow to his confidence. If, however, he strives to hit .300, he's created a realistic goal, and if he adds 10 or 20 points to his average the effort will have been worth it.

Sustaining Optimism Don't tell yourself what you cannot do. Let your competition do that. Managers and team players alike must corner the market on positive thoughts. Roger Clemens has that self assurance, which is why he's a good fit in our ball club. Roger is not only one of the best pitchers of our era, he's one of the most driven, most professional players I have come across. When he showed up at spring training, I let him know that I expected the same things from all of my players, and he'd be no different. He understood completely…

On Work as Therapy Baseball has always been a shelter for me when times got tough. Whether the problem has involved a loved one or my own physical health, I know that for several hours I can lose myself in the strategy, the gamesmanship, the ebb and flow of a ball game. The camaraderie of teammates also can be a great comfort. We shouldn't use work to avoid problems, but when we are working, I think it's healthy to lose ourselves in the pleasures and challenges of our daily tasks.

Taking Chances In any business endeavor, you've got to keep a laser-like focus on your goals. When you do, your tactics will be geared to success, not to pleasing people who aren't part of your team. Stop worrying about the critics and Monday-morning quarterbacks. If you keep thinking, ''I don't want to fail'' you're not thinking about how you can win. Be willing to take risks, and to stand up for your choices even when they don't pan out. When you rely on sound reasons and gut feelings to make decisions, you never have to fear the consequences of being bold.

Taking Small Bites I have developed a strategic approach to baseball that breeds steadiness. I call it the ''small bites'' approach, and you can apply it to any endeavor in business or life. Basically, the ''small bites'' philosophy is that winning results from an assembly of small elements over time. When you focus your attention on these elements, you can overcome the biggest obstacles, reach heights you thought were not possible. ''Small bites'' helps you rebound from setbacks, because you don't get overwhelmed by how daunting the task seems. Your goal is firmly in mind, but you focus on the little things you must do to win today.

Staying Focused Players who are involved in a postseason series – whatever the sport – get constant questions about winning the championship. When they start thinking championship, they get distracted from the business at hand – today's game. I tell players to put blinders on, whether they're up or down in a series. If they're down, the blinders keep them from getting overwhelmed. If they're up, the blinders keep them from losing their focus. Too often, teams with the lead in a series suffer a big letdown the moment they lose a game. Maybe they've been too busy celebrating the championship that hasn't yet happened. Players should be so wrapped up in playoff games that they won't realize that they won the championship until someone taps them on the shoulder with the news: ''Hey, it's over. You won it.''

Making Time for Everyone It's one thing to espouse the view that every team player must feel useful, but it's another to put it into practice. The only way is through the ''make time'' doctrine. Making time for team players is no panacea for their problems, but it's a fundamental rule of sound managing. It creates the space in which you get to know them; let them know you; solidify trust; and resolve unspoken issues. Your one-on-one dialogues with team players are motivational building blocks – the basis for the creation of teamwork.

Setting People Up for Success Of course, every team has players who are totally secure in their positions – ace starting pitchers, star position players, reliable relief pitchers. I don't have to figure out what to do with our shortstop, Derek Jeter. Players like Derek establish themselves before you come on as manager, or they quickly establish themselves once you're on board. But there are many players – those platooned at a particular position, middle relievers, utility infielders, and pinch hitters – who do best in some situations and not in others. It's your job as manager to put them in situations in which they can succeed, and if you make sound decisions you give them the best chance to shine – and to help your team win. These ''role-players'' can be as important as your ''stars,'' so this is crucial.