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June 29, 2006

News & Opinion: A little on baseball and a lot on performance

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 5:41 PM – Filed under: Leadership & Strategy

Side note: click here if you missed John's first, second , third and fourth entries.
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Ive been fascinated, too, by the topic of performance, particularly in sports and probably because I live in Cincinnati where baseball is still accessible and affordable. At each game I go to I experiment with praise and criticism, that is, I always heckle one guy throughout the game but only when that guy steps into the on-deck circle or when hes not looking in the field. I want to plant a seed of failure in the opposing teams best player and a seed of success among one or two of the Reds best players. Professional athletes - and professionals in business, I think - will usually respond in one of two ways: they excel or they fold. One evening I told Albert Puljols that Its an accident that Im sitting here in late August and youre hitting .340 because you are not a .340 hitter, pal. Best hitter in baseball. Send him to the plate with a negative thought. Guy goes 0-4 that night with me counting down all the way.
But criticism can also focus achieving individuals.
One game I asked Yankees left fielder Floyd what he was gonna do with the ball because I knew that Freel, on first at the time, was for sure gonna run on his weak arm. Next inning Floyd comes up homer. Back out on the field, I told him it was good he watched that for a long time because he wasnt going to see another one for about 30 days. I try to say these things when their backs are turned for full Everyman impact. And, after all, heckling a pro leftfielder at a baseball game in Cincinnati is a tradition that dates to the Civil War. Next at bat Floyd hits another one out. Back to back dingers! I bet hes never done it before or since. My friends beg me not to heckle at the games though I am never profane, just sort of sneery because theyve seen opposing players go three for four with about three RBIs. I have an endless list of stories like those. These days I tend not to criticize the opposing team because it can make individuals angry and they almost single-handedly blow out the Reds.
Ive always believed that performance in athletics was not much different than performance at work - back in the office for these thousands in the stands. People achieve through diligence, practice of good habits, personal goal-setting and praise and/or criticism is a large part of it all. If performance was the common thread between baseball and, say, the factory floor then why not create a book that look to those who have achieved to talk about how they did it. So I interviewed experts on work and approaches to work.
All achieving companies, groups, teams, divisions and individuals at some point have to deal with outside influences. And though managers praise and criticism work on individuals and groups, its better to offer regular and genuine praise because criticism can backfire as Floyd the left fielder for the Yankees proved on one sticky afternoon in Cincinnati.