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Winning Game #6: Setting Goals For A Season Of Success

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.

“For me, I’m going to be talking playoffs next year. I’m going to tell you that right now. Because I can’t go to Spring Training and say any other thing.” -- Joe Maddon, introductory news conference

On that day in November 2014, the new Cubs manager made no mistake. He was setting a high mark and he believed every word. There could’ve been a lot of snickering and eye rolling from reporters present that day who were skeptical, but there wasn’t. That’s because Joe Maddon was the ideal leader to set that goal for his new team. It wasn’t blind ambition either. Because in his view, going public with his goal of making the playoffs was what any legitimate contender for a World Series crown should want.

When championship-level teams want to set goals the right way, it doesn’t feel like over-promising when the leader goes public with a particular goal, whether it’s a baseball manager speaking to his team or a new CEO addressing his employees and shareholders. That “public” statement of where you want to take the company should be an ideal balance of providing your team an inspiring goal while being realistic about it at the same time.

How Far Out There On The Branch Do You Want To Go?

A public declaration of a goal can feel as scary as walking out on a branch without knowing if it’s going to support you. Stating the Cubs would make it a goal to make the playoffs on a consistent basis was, well, a big walk out there. The branch could’ve “snapped off” at any time in the form of injuries, player slumps, trades gone bad and other factors.

Your business environment has risks of its own when you walk out on the end of the branch. For example:

  • Could that star talent you’re nurturing into a leadership role suddenly leave unexpectedly?

  • Might the company miss annual projections?

  • What if an unforeseen event creates an economic scenario you never considered in your plans?

We can’t predict if and when the branch will snap off, but we have to trust that the branch is strong enough for a moderate amount of risk in our public statements. Simply put, there is no courage without some degree of fear. Joe Maddon knew what he was saying and if he fell short of his goals, everyone in the city of Chicago would make him remember it.

Yet, they also respected him for his goal because it was just big enough. Contrast this if he had said, “We won’t make the playoffs for a long time. I’d just like to have a better record next year than we did this year and that will be good enough.” Good enough? Not for anybody. Even if that was realistic, it wasn’t lofty enough. And if he had said, “We’re going to win the World Series every year!” that would’ve been like a massive overreach given the reality. So you must find that special blend that pushes your team outside of its comfort zone – just enough so that they can envision success.

What Does The Season Of Success Look Like?

Your people want to win. They want to improve and hopefully have a real passion for elevating the performance of the company to great heights. They want to contribute and be a part of the solution. But they don’t necessarily know how to be led on the right path to those goals.

This is where transparency along the way is so important. It’s not enough to state the goal in front of your audience. You have to shed light on the points of your plan to get from here to the next intermediate goal and the next one and so on. Until you reach the ultimate prize you publicly stated.

For example, Joe Maddon could say, “Our goal is to win the majority of every series with a team we play. We want to own each weekend and take 2 out of 3 games.”

What happens if you win 2 out of 3 games? You win the series.

What happens if you win a series and another and another?ou string a number of series wins together, which in turn stands an excellent chance of getting you into the playoffs – the big goal originally stated.

Think about this as it applies to your own culture. Leaders can get obsessed with Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) but when those are so far out of reach, an adjustment might need to be made so the goal is easier to envision. In addition, if such an enormous goal is all your team sees, it can be awfully intimidating. Remember to lay the groundwork for success with those mini-objectives your team can reach if they bring a commitment every day to doing all the little things to get better. For ballplayers, it’s about getting batting practice in, staying in good physical condition, working on throwing mechanics and catching fly balls in the field. I often recommend companies work at going 4-0 by winning each fiscal quarter with specific goals set for each quarter to mirror the longer-term annual goals to progress appropriately. Your own employees need to get their fundamentals in too – so what do those everyday acts of getting your team in sync entail? What should their goals be for the week or the month? Do they see how each achievement fits into the overall big picture?

As you put together a multi-layered set of goals for what you want to achieve, getting that total “team buy-in” means everything. Fortunately, you don’t have to put it all on your own shoulders and risk running into one of the nine behaviors that can derail your efforts (click here to download the list). That’s where our team can be a fantastic complement to your efforts.

In as little as one-half a day, a Leading With Courage Workshop℠ can equip you and the rest of your team with the tools to get in total alignment. 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 #7 and final part of our 7-part Series, we’ll discuss how champion cultures move forward by trading out the under-performers, keeping the game simple instead of attempting to do too much and establishing each player’s role to form a cohesive powerhouse. It’s worked for the Cubs, it’s worked for the Indians and it can work for you too.

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