Originally posted on Ashford University Forward Thinking, October 2018: https://www.ashford.edu/blog/career-tips/learning-at-the-ballgame-three-skills-for-managerial-success

As another exciting baseball season nears its conclusion, we couldn’t help but notice that there are many lessons from baseball that easily translate to business success. During the game, managers display their leadership styles. Successful managers often are transparent, open,  authentic, and serve as positive role models who lead by example. We see how they connect, inspire, influence, motivate, and improve people’s performance. Their technical, conceptual, and interpersonal skills are evident. Understanding and implementing these skills allows us to practice, prepare, and handle various situations in the business environment. 

Defining the Skills

Just like in baseball, effective managers achieve desired results and build positive relationships. As outlined by Robert Katz, most are strong in three skill categories: technical, conceptual, and interpersonal. These skills can move any team forward to achieve favorable outcomes and results and are important at different levels of an organization (Katz as cited in Juliane, 2009).

Technical – Middle and lower level:

Having technical skill requires the ability to perform various tasks. Managers who possess this skill understand and can use relevant tools, information, and content to solve problems. Some examples include technology, business planning, marketing, selling, and negotiation expertise.

Conceptual – Top and middle level: 

Simply put, managers who have conceptual skills are able to work well with ideas and concepts. They think creatively and understand situations, the big picture, abstract ideas, and cause and effect. This skill is important to strategic planning and helps managers set goals, plans, and strategies.

Human and Interpersonal – Top and middle level: 

Managers must have human and interpersonal skills to help them relate to people. Being cognizant of their own views as well as the views of others is paramount. Having strong self and social awareness means they have emotional intelligence (EQ) and can self manage. It means they can effectively manage relationships, build trust, and create an environment that fosters communication and inclusiveness, which is key to strategic planning and vision creation.

Real World Application

In the article “Managerial Skills – 3 Types Each Manager Will Need,” Dragan Sutevski (n.d.), founder and CEO of Sutevski Consulting, reiterates Katz’s theory on managerial skills, which he says are necessary to ensure a successful management process. Here’s how these skills are applied in baseball and business.

Technical Skills

Baseball

To improve individual and team performance, managers and coaches apply team-oriented leadership, coach, and train. They make observations, interpret data, and develop and apply different strategies, methods, and tactics that leverage their team’s strengths, improve weaknesses, and create opportunities. In fact, many teams use Sabermetrics, the empirical analysis of baseball in which data is collected, analyzed, interpreted, and summarized from in-game activity. It is then used to make decisions and answer questions about players and situations in a game.

Business

According to Jim Knox, former director of sales and marketing at Pepsi, the Sabermetrics approach has been directly applied at the firm. 
“Using technology tools in the trade, Pepsi tracks organizational, customer, division, district, and route sales data,” he explains. “They have a good pulse on the business, recognize trends in real time, and they know their customers’ needs and wants. Technology continues to drive change and predicative analytics are leading the way to guide the business.”

Conceptual Skills

Baseball

Managers and coaches see the bigger picture. They make observations about dynamics and solve problems, develop strategies, and keep their team focused, motivated, and inspired. These managers choose the right approach at the right time and have a high EQ. They understand cause and effect.

Business

Managers must be able to assess a situation and work with conceptual scenarios and a variety of theoretical models. They set goals, understand how they will work, and execute them to accomplish their visions. They need to think of these models conceptually as tools that are ready to use when needed. 

Many models can be applied for strategic planning purposes. For example, the Ansoff Opportunity Matrix created by Igor Ansoff is a great tool to create growth strategies for markets and products because it allows a manager the opportunity to conceptualize the market segment and possible growth opportunities with current and new markets and products.

Human and Interpersonal Skills

Baseball

Being solid in this skill area demonstrates a manager’s and coach’s ability to adjust and adapt to situations. It demonstrates that they can lead and motivate their team members — the organization’s human resources. They bring the best out in people and raise their game. Players count on them to provide timely valuable feedback, to inspire, influence, reward, and to help improve situations. In general, they work to help create an environment and clubhouse that fosters teamwork and a strong sense of trust and community.

Business

Managers must understand the context and situation in which they lead and appreciate the personalities of their people and teams. For example, applying situational leadership helps managers know the maturity and skill levels of their team members as they apply to their specific roles. They understand their strengths and weaknesses and know better how to support and serve them. Managers provide advice, coaching, training, and feedback to help improve employee performance. They need to motivate and inspire, and servant transformational-style leaders inspire, influence, and improve others. They have integrity and are ethical, and this moves their people and teams forward to increase performance.

Honing These Skills for Success

Passion, leadership, respect, teamwork, and trust are just some of the core values you learn to embrace when you are a member of a baseball team. To be an effective manager and leader in baseball and business, you must keep honing your technical, conceptual, and human and interpersonal skills. In doing so, you will learn experientially. But remember, even with these skills, a plan doesn’t always guarantee complete success. There are winners and losers. As Murphy’s Law says, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong,” and when that happens, it’s best to relax, reset, adjust, and plan your work and work your plan. 

Words to Lead By

Experiential learning helps you to gain valuable insights, knowledge, and wisdom, and teamwork can hone and sharpen your skills. Valuable experience and wisdom come together to further your personal and professional success both on the field and in the business environment. 

In the spirit of baseball management, here are three insightful quotes from some of professional baseball’s greatest managers. As you read them, conceptualize and think about how they can connect to business:

“Baseball is a simple game. If you have good players and if you keep them in the right frame of mind the manager is a success.” 
–George Lee “Sparky” Anderson, Cincinnati Reds 

“No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are you’re going to win one-third of your games. It’s the other third that makes the difference.”
–Tommy Lasorda, LA Dodgers 

“Never permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure.”

–Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs 

References:

Juliane, (2009). Leadership trait or skill.  Retrieved from http://performancetech.blogspot.com/2009/02/leadership-trait-or-skill.html
Katz, R. L. (1974, September/October). Skills of an effective administrator, Harvard Business Review, 52(5), 90–102

Sutevski, D. (n.d.). Managerial skills – 3 types of skills each manager will need. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneurshipinabox.com/202/managerial-skills/