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Winning Game #1 -- Building A Champion Culture

The Cubs and Indians have had decades-long championship droughts and both teams have rebuilt themselves all the way back to instill a culture of united vision and sustained victories.

In this 7-part series to match the 7 games of the World Series, Trent Clark, who worked in 3 baseball organizations – the Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Detroit Tigers, including three trips to the World Series with the Indians and Angels – shares his insight on the ingredients for a winning team. Take these concepts to heart as you transform your own company culture into a winning one.

In baseball, you’ve got players flowing in and out of the clubhouse all the time through free agency, trades and minor leaguers being called up to the big leagues. It’s no small challenge in that environment to keep the chemistry of the club just right – all those things you hear about chemistry being almost as important as talent are true.

However, I can remember when I was working in the Cleveland Indians organization and was struck by an odd occurrence that happened far too often – as soon as a new player joined the organization, can you guess the first thing many of them did?

The player would walk into the clubhouse…with their old team’s hat on.

I know. Come on! This is the team that just signed you! You don’t walk into the Indians clubhouse with a Yankees, Red Sox or any other team’s hat on. You want to exude gratitude and happiness to be a Cleveland Indian, wearing the team’s colors from head to toe.

This kind of thing means a lot to people. Impressions matter.

It’s not a phenomenon unique to the baseball universe either. In my experience working with a variety of growing companies advising their leaders and managers, newcomers at every level can have a distinct lack of self-awareness and self-discipline when it comes to understanding the new environment they’re joining.

You can’t walk into a new company with your “old hat” on, talking big about all the things that worked well elsewhere and how you’re going to make gigantic changes in your new home. It just doesn’t go over well. At that moment, even if people are familiar with your accomplishments, you’re an unknown entity because they still don’t know how you’re going to work with them.

Here are 3 first steps you can take to get off on the right foot as you aim to transition into your new role smoothly and with humility. This is so huge for eventually making at least some of the kind of changes you envision. Ignore them and people will be fighting you through change kicking and screaming.

Respect The Culture First

When Joe Maddon became a new Manager of the Chicago Cubs, he didn’t have a press conference filled with a lot of talk about what he did well with the Tampa Bay Rays and how he was going to import that template into the Chicago clubhouse. He could have, considering he was an outstanding success in a small market. But he also understood that Chicago was a different animal. It was a larger market. The budgets for free agents would be bigger. He would be working with a different set of management and ownership. The farm system that Chicago was building would require a special kind of coaching.

Similarly, when he was hired by the Cleveland Indians, Terry Francona could have talked at length about his wonderful years of success as a manager of the Boston Red Sox and how he’d follow that formula. But again, it’s a different environment and he understood that.

As a new player in the organization, you have to first grasp where the culture has been and who your new teammates are. Maybe you’ve read some headlines, but what was life in this environment really like? Do people talk about the “good old days” a lot? If so, what elements made those the good old days? Chances are, they’ll talk a great deal about this or that individual who was present as a wonderful asset of the culture. He or she could have been a former CEO or worked in the mailroom. What made them special? What did they do and say?

Know Your Teammates – ALL Of Them

It’s a very tough road for those who make assumptions about the environment they’re entering without getting to know the people they’re working with. One of the biggest mistakes I see in newly appointed leaders and managers is that they only get to know the people within arm’s length of their desk: The boss and nearby co-workers in their department.

Instead, get to know people in every department so that you truly comprehend all facets of the company – roles, responsibilities, processes, products/services and more. Grab a cup of coffee or lunch with people outside of your department walls and keep doing it. If you’re a leader, you particularly can’t do this enough.

Part of this effort is about building rapport. Not everybody is going to understand a big annual agenda at first, but if you take the time to explain what you’re trying to do and how they can play a part in achieving the goal, you’ll stand a much better chance of getting them on board for change. Why? You shared the vision early and connected the dots. Conversely, get to know their own goals for their career path. Where do they want to go? If you’re in a position of leadership, what can you do to clear roadblocks or mentor them to reach that career destination? Every organization has its own puzzle pieces that fit together to form a complete picture. Don’t focus solely on the ones closest to you.

Break Down The Mission For Today – Not Just For Someday

So you’ve gotten to know the landscape of the environment and the people within it. As you start to think about making change, even if it’s grand, you have to convey these steps as something small. Here’s what I mean: Leaders and managers are great at talking about the vision, mission, and the core values of success. What they’re surprisingly not so good at? The day-to-day stuff that builds winners. This relates a bit to my previous point about getting to know all the players.

Joe Maddon has had a terrific game plan of getting this current Cubs team to the playoffs. However, it wouldn’t do much good if he didn’t at some point break down the path of how to do that. Managers like Joe are great at helping players play loose yet focused because it’s just about that next at-bat, that next play in the field, that next pitch. It’s not about 162 games at once. It’s about the next game and at most, winning a series.

If you win more series than you lose, you stand a great chance of making the playoffs, right? Think about all the little things that matter that your team does really well today. When those tiny victories add up, they start to see the vision you see. And that’s where players become a team and where a team becomes a force to be reckoned with.

Did you know there are nine behaviors that can derail the career of a new or emerging leader? Displaying just one of them could be a big blow to progress. Click here to discover what those hidden dangerous behaviors are and if you’ve come close to exhibiting such behaviors.

Next, if you’re concerned that you’re headed for a possible derailment, there’s something you can do about it: A Leading With Courage Workshop can equip you and the rest of your team with the tools to get in total alignment – in as little as ½ a day! It’s also a great way to strengthen client relationships by inviting their emerging leaders to participate too. To learn more, call 312.827.2643 or email

In Part 2 of our 7-part Series, we’ll take a closer look at what happens when the wrong kind of person is in your clubhouse and what to do in order to ensure they don’t upset the chemistry of what you’re building.

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