advisory consulting

Lineup! – Lessons learned coaching Little League

When my two youngest sons were nine and ten we had just moved to a new community in time for little league baseball season. Being the new kids on the block my husband and I offered to coach a team to ensure our sons would have a chance to play. Most of the players had already been chosen for the other established teams and we were left with what can only be described as a rag tag group of players. One boy, a computer genius, had never played baseball before; another was only 8 but his father insisted he was good enough to play with the older age group (he wasn’t) and so on. You get the picture. Fortunately our sons were good players with some experience.

I have had a lifetime love affair with baseball. As the only girl the boys would let play during recess in my pre-title 9 elementary school, I could hit and run but yes, throwing was not my best skill. So I came to coaching with a healthy amount of knowledge of the fundamentals. We drilled our “Bad News Bears” team in fielding, hitting, base running and throwing but after our first game I realized there was not enough time in the season to up the skill level of each player through drills alone. The league embraced the philosophy (with which I agree) that every kid on the team plays so we were not able to have some of the weaker players warm the bench more than the others.

Then I had an idea, instead of loading the top of the batting order with the best hitters, we should stagger our best throughout the lineup thereby preventing innings of three almost guaranteed outs. So we gave it a try, after all what did we have to lose, and our team started winning. By the end of the season we found ourselves in the championship game against a hand-picked team of the best players. Like every good sports story, with one son pitching, the other on first base and against all odds, we won the championship- First place!

So what were the lessons learned? First, what works for Major Leaguers does not always work for Little Leaguers. In this same way, firms at or near a billion dollars under management have a different focus than firms just starting out. The point of view of large firms is born of success, market dominance, and sustainability. What works for larger practices is not what works for smaller firms in formulation stage or for advisors who choose to have smaller practices. Yes, there are certain fundamentals every successful business needs to acknowledge and practice but what it takes to start a firm- the skills and allocation of resources- is very different from what it takes to grow and sustain a business once the firm has reached critical mass. So be careful in following advice that may not be the best for your firm’s current situation.

Next, mixing average players in with excellent players raises the quality of the entire team. Success is infectious and more often than not the weaker batters, with the help and encouragement of the better players, developed the confidence to at least try and swing at the ball and not just stand there accepting a strikeout. As a consequence, by the end of the season some of the players with the least skills in the beginning improved and not only made it on base but scored runs. That is the natural evolution of teamwork. But remember it’s the manager who sets the lineup. Knowing the quality and skills of your firm’s staff and yourself is critical in deciding where to place them in the lineup. What jobs are they most suited for and can and will they be mentored by a more experienced and competent employee?

Last, looking at your team with eyes wide open can have paradigm changing effects. Our perceptions are limited and because of that fact we are incapable of seeing a situation in its entirety. We tend to seek to confirm what we already believe is true ignoring the reality of our present circumstance and failing to see problems. Only when I realized we were setting up our team for failure by sticking to tradition in ordering the batting lineup, was change possible. No one was forcing us to use that strategy and the awareness that a simple change could produce an exceptional outcome almost demanded that the necessary changes, at the very least, be tried. So as I look at the trophy from the season it stands as a reminder to continuously assess and seek ways to change for the better.

Do you need help in seeing your practice with eyes wide open? Contact me at lorraine@excellat.com or call 800-485-6141.