CommonSense Blog

Let Them Play the Field – Coaching Teams for Success

By Jennifer Gottlieb | Jun 25, 2013

I learned a very important business lesson recently and it happened on the little league field of all places. As a business leader and a parent, often my worlds collide and sometimes those collisions lead to remarkable insights that help me on both fronts.

My ten-year-old daughter Sam started playing softball only last season. At first she was very focused on understanding the game, playing on a team, having the courage and confidence to hit and catch the ball.  As we entered her second season we were very focused on helping her continue to develop these skills.  A few games into the season she told me she was going to ask the coaches if she could pitch.  My immediate reaction was to encourage her to continue to hone her basic skills and if the coaches asked her if she wanted to pitch she should say yes.  Her reaction was “Mom! Do you not think I am good enough to pitch!?!?”…I struggled with how to answer that and simply said, “no, but it would be good to take your time and work on you basic skills for now.” I was wrong.

Sam proceeded to boldly ask her coaches if she could pitch. Their reaction was similar to mine except they said that they would give a few girls a chance to try in the next few games and she would get her shot.  Fast forward eight games later, Sam was one of the three starting pitchers, made it to the playoffs where she shut down the game at the top of the 6th with a man on 3rd, and made the All Star team due to her pitching. She had a natural ability to pitch and none of us knew this….except her.

Besides being a very proud parent who was proven very wrong, my lesson as it applies to business is always allowing people to dream and act on what is possible.  This is especially important as it relates to coaching and developing millennials who can’t stretch enough or get enough opportunity.

Many of us grew up in business achieving certain milestones that enabled us the skills to move up the ladder.  The ladder is now a jungle gym (to quote Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In) and we need to flex as leaders and managers and allow people to go with their guts, maximize their natural skills and abilities, and skip a few rungs here and there to get to the place where they will flourish and maximize their talent…. and maximize our opportunities.

It is vitally important to observe and listen to uncover people’s talents.  When they ask to take a chance and try something new we should let them and give them the appropriate coaching, support and guardrails to do it.

Take it from me, to have a team of All Stars it is vital to let them play the field and find their position.

Top 5 tips on bringing out the best in your team and yourself:

  • Understand strengths and talents of all team members and maximize them in the right roles rather than trying to fit everyone in the same box.
  • Support people’s desires to try new things and support them to take risks.
  • Create an environment where people grow horizontally…learning different skill sets to grow vs. climbing the ladder.  This is much more valuable for the company and team members in the long run.
  • Provide an environment with a lot of running room – keep hierarchy and levels to a minimum and ensure there is plenty of opportunity to flex up, down and sideways.
  • Do not wait for an invitation.  If you want to expand your skill set, take on a new challenge or have a great idea you want to blow out, make a case, write a plan and go ahead!

For additional lessons from the baseball field to the boardroom see another recent blog post from my colleague Jack LeMenager.