Talent Management

Leadership Lessons From This Week's MLB All-Star Game

Leadership Lessons From This Week's MLB All-Star Game

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12: American League All-Star Josh Donaldson #20 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on during batting practice prior to the 87th MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park

This week, millions of people worldwide will have watched the 87th Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game, showcasing 70 top players from the American and National Leagues. Players compete for bragging rights and home field advantage in the World Series. No matter your industry, you can take talent-management pointers from watching these MLB All-Stars in action. 

If you want to get commensurate All-Star performance from your team, follow this advice.

The first pitch.

MLB is serious about recruiting, selecting and developing talent. The average 26-year-old player in this year’s All-Star game likely has been playing baseball since age 5 and has been on a pro scout's radar since his late teens. As a frame of reference, the system's 47 recruiters feed a league with only 30 teams and 750 active-roster players. Most companies that size have fewer than one full-time recruiter. And unlike in baseball, that recruiter usually isn't next in line for a GM position.

Though still not a complete meritocracy, getting to play (and stay) in pro baseball is pretty much a numbers game. Teams are heavily analytics-driven and use more than a dozen hard data points reflecting a player’s strength, speed, baseball talent and other factors. By comparison, hiring managers have had "eyes on" candidates for less than three hours total when assessing the average recruit for an entry- to mid-level business or government position. Those of us who have sat on the other side of the table get precious little data. We go on what we’ve gleaned from a machine-screened resume and possibly review the results from some sort of test. As in baseball, our “player” typically will stay with our organization for roughly five years.

Related: How to Attract Awesome Talent During Employee Recruitment

High hard one.

Management positions have no universally accepted parameters or certifications regarding a person’s leadership capabilities. No wonder CEOs toss and turn at night worrying about their leadership benches. Recognize that newly hired sales managers are more likely to fail because they can't lead -- not because they can't sell.

Professional baseball has struggled since the advent of "Moneyball" to find the proper balance between analytics and subjective input from scouts and managers. Yet pro managers are several years ahead of corporate leaders, and not only in terms of collecting data on player performance. We in the business world often strike out when it comes to coaching and development. We'd do well to dedicate time, money and personal attention to this one.

The stretch.

The 61 rookie players on major league rosters this year each have benefited from a wealth of player development activities that start with several years of serious coaching before they turn pro. Players who are successful in a tryout camp earn a stint in one or more of the three MLB development leagues before they make it to the show. Once they arrive in the majors, they join 25-player active rosters under a manager's leadership. Each team employs 10 or so professional coaches whose sole purpose is to work regularly with rookies to improve skills, confidence and competitiveness.

By comparison, the average newly hired full-time American worker gets a few hours of company orientation, including form-filling, and about 45 minutes of training per week thereafter. That’s it. Coaching aside, baseball players warm up for longer than that every game.

Related: To Motivate Employees, Find a Balance Between Job Enrichment and Job Enlargement

New managers draw the toughest hand. They often are called in on Friday afternoon and congratulated on their promotion to an entry-level leadership position that starts Monday morning. They've got all weekend to get ready. They might be the best at what they do, or they might simply be the longest-serving in their role or department. That’s a little like fast-roping into a combat zone with very little ammo and no training.

Last at bat.

Have you noticed how readily and enthusiastically MLB players celebrate one another’s great plays? In an ideal workplace, we all would know how great it feels when a teammate or opponent gives us a public shout-out for our successful efforts. We need to do more of that. So come on, give it up!

Related: Want an Unstoppable Team? Try Using Manager and Peer Recognition

Developing All-Star level players means getting serious about competing for talent. We need to look every day, regardless of whether we have open slots on our teams. We need to be more like baseball scouts: find them sooner, build relationships, and use better decision-making data to build our organizations. Once we have that talent in our clubhouses, we must be more intentional and methodical about developing our players. We should give extra attention to those already on the leadership bench or destined to get a shot at coaching their own teams.

Remember: All-Stars play for pride. Feed that need by applauding and rewarding a job well done.