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Winning Game #2: Cut Loose Clubhouse Chemistry Killers

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 every baseball clubhouse, it’s really not just about having great talent. From my experiences in these organizations, you need the right mix of personalities too – also known as chemistry.

It takes a real architect to bring together the best players and obviously Theo Epstein is one of the best in baseball at doing just that. If he built a team exclusively on young talent, would we still see the Chicago Cubs in the World Series? Maybe not this year. Because Theo understood that getting free agents to come to Chicago like Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey wasn’t merely about their outstanding talent – it was that they had won it all before.

Think about this in your own environment. You may have the promising up-and-comers, but have you identified the veteran mentors to show them how the right way is done?

Weed Out The Chemistry Killers - Fast

The adage, ‘Hire Slow, Fire Fast’ is real! In a clubhouse, it only takes one bad apple to spoil it for the whole bunch. That’s right. Just one. Most fans can easily recall a volatile, self-centered superstar, or promising talent on their team. Do they get results? Yes, often. Worth it? Rarely, if not at all. Tantrums, yelling at teammates, cursing out anyone in sight and getting thrown out of games. In short, a ticking time-bomb waiting to go off at any moment.

Let’s just say other teams aren’t lining up to trade for such a player. Because for all of the success and win totals, this person is poison to a clubhouse’s chemistry. When finally removed, a sense of relief washes over the clubhouse, the front office, fans and I suspect over much of the city too. It’s total addition by subtraction. I have NEVER had a conversation with a Director, Manager or Owner of any organization that felt after 5 days of letting a ‘bad seed’ go that they should have ‘given them more time.’ In fact, the common resounding message is the opposite, ‘why did I/we wait so long!’ The most talented person in the world (performance is only one measure) that refuses the culture, values and ethics of an organization will never rise above being a ‘C’ Player – and great organizations ONLY keep and train up ‘A and B’ players. (I recommend Topgrading by Brad and Geoff Smart – Great Read)

You’ve probably experienced this kind of “superstar” at least once in a company culture. They think the world revolves around them and they don’t much care what anyone else thinks. That’s a problem from the word “go.” They’re so self-focused that they drag the rest of the culture down with them because all they can talk about is what’s wrong.

In his book Being A Leader With Courage, my partner Lee Eisenstaedt refers to these types of individuals as Covert Change Killers. Even if it seems like they’re on your side, the truth is that they’re loyal to nobody but themselves. They’ll talk about you behind your back, doubt your success and throw darts at your new initiatives through office gossip.

It only takes one of these types of individuals to cause big problems and create division within the culture. They’re also dangerous because they have a certain degree of influence and probably just enough ability to contribute to a team’s success on a regular basis. The question is…at what cost?

I liken the Covert Change Killer to what I would occasionally see when a new player would join the team. It could be a new free agent signed to a gigantic contract or a minor leaguer who was just called up from our farm team. They should’ve said all the right things about how honored they were to join a team with a proud history, how they just wanted to help the team win, etc.

Well, even though some of these players should say that, they don’t display a lot of loyalty to the market they’re playing in. And they generally aren’t very happy even though they’re well paid. They want more playing time or more money or more award recognition or more endorsements. If they don’t get what they want, they’re miserable to be around.

Can They Be Turned Around?

I wish I could be more optimistic here. If it is a case of ethics or values, I don’t like your chances here. We often found that our team was better off wishing the “bad seed” well and trading him elsewhere. In a business atmosphere, you can do that too, although it involves more pointing toward the exit than trading with anyone. That said, there is a chance of breaking through and connecting with a chemistry killer to attempt to understand what motivates their behaviors.

Naturally, our coaches would do a lot of heart-to-heart conversations where necessary to smooth things over and I think communication in your business environment is vital on a one-to-one basis to convey expectations. You may be pleasantly surprised to find during the course of your conversation that the employee you’re talking to is someone who often “rocks the boat” but is also in the wrong part of the company to thrive. Perhaps they could bring great ideas to another department that would appreciate them more. If they don’t take to your guidance, you can’t afford to keep them around for too long. Every day could mean another bad attitude running rampant in your environment.

One more thought: In addition to Theo Epstein’s orchestration of talent, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the Chicago Cubs immediately got better and better under the guidance of Joe Maddon. I was a member of the Angels organization when Joe was one of the coaches and I can tell you that his even keel demeanor plays very well in a clubhouse. There’s a reason why people love to play for this man. He keeps the environment loose and fun, yet also very focused on the goal at hand, one step at a time.

Great leaders with influence set the tone. I doubt Joe has talked a lot about forcing anyone to rigidly follow a template from the Angels, the Tampa Bay Rays or, for that matter, any other team. Instead, he treats this group of players as the unique ones that they are.

So if you’re new to an organization or newly promoted into a managerial role, have respect for the talent you have. But don’t be afraid to move quickly on the talent that may be good but for the sake of preserving chemistry, isn’t worth keeping around another day.

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 Winning Game #3 of our 7-part Series, we’ll talk about the merit of having a short-term memory when it comes to building a new era of success for your team. Stop looking through the rear view mirror of the past and get ready to start looking forward -through the big windshield of your future - with this next post.

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