During a recent Chicago Cubs game, one of the broadcasters casually referenced a sign that team manager Joe Maddon keeps in the clubhouse. It reads “The 5 Stages of a Ball Player.” Each stage details the psyche of a major-leaguer, from rookie to grizzled veteran. Upon hearing the broadcaster explain the list, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the Big Leaguer and the effective office worker.
Stage 1: Happy to be here.
Making it to "The Show,'' baseball slang for the major leagues, is the realization of a childhood fantasy very few get to experience. From playing on miniature baseball diamonds in the neighborhood Little League to reaching the sport’s pinnacle, playing in front of 40,000 fans nightly, the newly-minted major leaguer has truly arrived. Getting to this level is a significant accomplishment. The thrill of putting on a major-league uniform is often validation enough.
This phenomenon is similar for a company’s new hire. Landing the job is itself a major victory. Perhaps it took many years of college, student loans and other sacrifices to earn this spot. Or maybe it was toiling away at a series of dead-end jobs at other companies (the minor leagues) before landing the dream job. Regardless, most employees go through a blissful period as they begin what they believe is the start of something major.
Stage 2: I want to stay here.
For the newly professional baseball player, the “I’m part of the team!”euphoria can quickly subside upon realizing every teammate is also extremely talented. This brings players to the next phase of their career -- feeling insecure about their ability to stay at this level. They develop a strong desire to prove they not only had what it took to get here, but have what it takes to remain.
Stage two athletes are in survival mode, knowing there’s no shortage of players willing and able to replace them should their performance slide southward. For many, this results in a roller coaster of emotions.
Stage two employees feel equally insecure about their company status. The wave of emotions that accompanies this can cause a lack of confidence and inconsistent performance. “Am I doing well?,” “Am I meeting expectations?,” and “I don’t want to fail” are prevailing thoughts.
Stage 3: I belong here.
When players reach stage three, they have grown more confident and secure about their place on the team. They “press” less, knowing they’ve demonstrated their value. This ability to relax a little tends to reflect positively on their on-field play.
Employees start to truly excel during this stage. They allow their training and talents to combine, making them a much stronger contributor than earlier in their career. They’ve reached the level of confidence to say “I’m good at what I do.” A word of caution: Ocassionally this results in a bolstered sense of entitlement that can risk career path derailment.
Stage 4: I want to make as much money as possible.
Professional athletes can make enormous sums of money; however, they also have short windows of opportunity when their bodies will allow them to do what they do at the highest level. The major-leaguer is wise to capitalize on his financial opportunities during his peak income earning years.
Even so, this desire to obtain the highest salary can have a negative effect on both player and team. Instead of playing “winning” baseball, the player might focus instead on piling up statistics. It becomes “me,” not “we.” For example, moving your teammate already on base by hitting it to the right side – sacrificing oneself for the team – gets put on hold in favor of swinging for the fences to better those personal stats.
Likewise, stage four employees’ motivation can be controlled by their own career path, as well as maximizing their personal opportunities. As you can imagine, a workplace full of team members with this “what’s in it for me” mentality is not a place destined for greatness.
Stage 5: I want to win.
A major-league manager, like Joe Maddon, dreams about a ball club full of nothing but stage five players. This is the type of team that consistently makes it to the post season and one day will win the World Series. Likewise, the effective business executive is in search of the stage five employee.
Good to Great, the seminal book by author Jim Collins, refers to the highest caliber leaders as those whose ambition is first and foremost for the company. This team-first approach in baseball and in business surprisingly leads to even happier teammates. It increases their feeling of belonging and ultimately their ability to make more money.
The true test of effective leadership is getting everyone in your organization to the stage five level as quickly as possible. Do that, and it’s a recipe for sustained success!