Many of the world’s greatest baseball players will put their talent on display in America’s Finest City on Tuesday, July 12th, as my hometown San Diego hosts Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. There are common traits and characteristics of the game’s best players. In baseball we call them “five-tool” players. That means they can hit for average, hit for power, run, play great defense, and have a great throwing arm. But having those tools alone doesn’t qualify someone to be an All-Star. They have to earn it through their performance on the field.
All-Star leaders and managers share common characteristics too. And just like baseball players, they have to earn their All-Star status through their performance at work over an extended period of time. Here are the “five tools” of All-Star leaders and managers:
1. They listen to learn and with the intent to be influenced — A common activity we do in our training classes is called the “Best Boss” exercise. We ask participants to write down the characteristics of the best boss they’ve ever had. Being a good listener is always near the top of the list. All-Star managers listen to learn and they have an open mind and a willingness to be influenced by others. Listening deeply and intently to others builds trust. It shows you value them and their opinion, and in that moment of time, you’re placing their needs and interests ahead of your own. Developing your listening skills is one of the quickest ways to move from being a so-so leader to an All-Star caliber leader.
2. They praise good performance — In training sessions I’ve conducted over the years I’ve asked hundreds upon hundreds of people this question: Raise your hand if you’re sick and tired of all the praise your boss gives you. No one ever raises a hand. Why is that? Is there some unwritten code that says managers shouldn’t praise people because they might get too comfortable and stop performing? For whatever reason, many managers are as stingy with praises as they are with the last dollar in their wallet. Your people need to know that you notice and appreciate their efforts. They are seeking approval and acknowledgment for their achievements in the workplace, and if you can’t, or more accurately, won’t give it to them, they’ll eventually seek it out from another manager or organization.
3. They expect the best out their people — All-Star leaders expect the best out of themselves, and because they hold themselves to high-standards, it allows them to hold their people to them as well. The sequence is important, so don’t miss it. The leader goes first, sets the example, and then others follow. A leader who demands the best from his/her people yet doesn’t live up to those same standards is a fraud. Hold yourself to high standards and expect the same of your people. More often than not they will reward your faith in them.
4. They celebrate success — Leaders of winning teams know the importance of celebrating success, both on an individual level and team basis. Winning is so much more fun than losing, yet some leaders lose sight of that basic truth. They constantly push their team toward the next objective, never taking time to recognize accomplishments along the way. That style may work for achieving results in the short-term, but over the long-term it will burn people out and turn them away from you. Everyone has a need to have their accomplishments recognized and doing it periodically helps replenish their mental, emotional, and physical energy needed for their work.
5. They treat mistakes as learning opportunities — Even professional baseball players make mistakes. Have you seen how the vast majority of managers react when a player makes a mistake? Many times they don’t do anything. They know the player knows he made a mistake and there is little profit in reminding him of the fact. Sometimes the manager will discreetly sidle up to the player and have a quiet conversation about the play, and when they do, it’s almost always talking about what the player learned from the experience and what they’ll do differently in a similar situation in the future. You’ll rarely see a manager publicly chew out a player. So why do so many leaders in organizations think it’s OK to rant and rave at their people at work? You may think it allows you to look tough and display your authority. It doesn’t. It makes you look immature and unable to control your emotions. It also makes you a bully. No one arrives at work and says to himself “I think I’ll be a total failure today!” Mistakes happen. It’s part of being human. All-Star managers know their people are usually trying their best and they use mistakes as an opportunity to teach and grow their people; not as an opportunity to humiliate them.
Just like All-Star baseball players share common traits, so do All-Star managers and leaders at work. Listening with the intent to learn, praising good performance, holding their people to high standards, celebrating success, and treating mistakes as learning opportunities are all characteristics of All-Star leaders. How do you shape up? Would you qualify as an All-Star?