5 Quick Tips for Business Leaders from the Sports World

You’ve probably heard the age old story of the little girl who, while helping her mother cook hama holiday meal for the entire family asks, “Mom, why are you cutting the ends off of the ham before you put it in the oven?”

The mother responds, “Well, you know what dear, I’m not totally sure, it’s just that…well, you’re grandmother taught me to cook it this way many years ago so that’s just how I’ve always done it.”

As luck would have it Grandma was coming to the holiday dinner that day so the little girl went straight to the source. She asked Grandma, “My mom cut off both ends of the ham before she put it into the oven to cook it. She said you taught her to cook it that way. Why Grandma?”

The Grandmother laughs and says, “What? She’s still cooking it that way? Sweetie, when your mother was a little girl we didn’t’ have a pan big enough for the ham so we had to do it that way. There’s no reason to cook it that way now.”

How often do we still do things because it’s just the way that we’ve always done them?

In soccer, professional goalies have a 33.3% better chance of stopping penalty kicks if they stay in the center of the goal. So you would imagine that all goalies all do this, right? Nope. Just 6.3% of goalies stay in the center. Why? According to a study by Michael Bar-Eli, because it looks and feels better to have missed the ball by diving, even if the results are worse. It’s how they’ve always been taught to do it.

The sport of baseball has more “unwritten rules” based on tradition than perhaps any other sport. Old school wisdom says if you have a base runner on first base with no outs you should sacrifice bunt the runner over to scoring position. This is what the majority of major league teams do because it’s what they’ve always been taught to do. The problem is, with today’s access to data and market intelligence, we now know that you just decreased your chances of scoring by a fraction under 25% of the time. Stop the madness!

How can you monetize this information as a leader in your company? Here are 5 quick ways to “rethink” status quo.

1. When People are Taught a Growth Mindset, They Become More Aware of Opportunities for Self-Improvement.

In sales and sales leadership, I often find that many of us read the same or similar books. One book that I highly recommend but that I’ve rarely found anyone else has read (Stephen Carter at DTI, 2014 exception to this…nice job Stephen) is Carol Dweck’s “Mindset.” HBR also references this great read and as a leader I encourage you to read it and help develop your own mindset and the mindset of your team.

2. Don’t Let Fear Ruin Their “Funk.”

You hired them for a reason; let them be “them.” Leaders have too often unconsciously institutionalized a fear of failure.   In the book authored by Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code, you’ll read outstanding examples of people becoming the superstar version of themselves by being in an environment that is very Error Focused. As a leader, create an environment that allows errors and grow from them.

3. Sharpen the Saw!

Toyota is widely regarded as a tremendously successful organization. One of the pillars of their famed business philosophy is continuous improvement. As HBR goes on to explain in their article referenced earlier, in 2009 after problems led Toyota to recall more than 9 million vehicles worldwide, its leaders confessed that their quest for success had compromised their devotion to learning. This bias towards success must not come at the cost of ongoing improvement. You won’t find the time to sharpen the saw, you need to plan and invest the time to sharpen it!

4. Bias Towards Action

I remember working at Bob Evans restaurant in high-school as a cook and my manger Marty coming up and saying, “You got time to lean, you got time to clean…” Let’s go do something, get busy.

I probably have had the same mentality throughout most of my career. However, I’ve been trying to improve. I now encourage my team to reflect after “doing” to learn where they’ve won and where they’ve lost. It’s okay to take time to just think & reflect. Do more of this!

5. Leaders Need To Lead…

Lead the change towards a more productive work environment. Allow your team, heck force your team, to start if you have to, just take 30 minutes at the end of each day and reflect on how they did. What could they have done better? Where do they need help? Take additional time if needed and plan out their next day.

Just like goalies and baseball players need to learn from the new data & market intelligence, so do today’s business leaders. You won’t find a stat that doesn’t prove that taking time to think through, write down and organize how you’re going to invest your time the next day will greatly enhance the mindset, happiness and yes…the productivity of those disciplined enough to add this exercise and habit to their routine.

Good luck!



The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle

Mindset, Carol Dweck

Why Organizations Don’t Learn HBR, November 2015

The 7-Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven R. Covey

Virtual Velocity, online virtual courses


I encourage you to read Why Organizations Don’t Learn by Francesca Gino & Bradley Staats in the November 2015 issue of Harvard Business Review.


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