Leadership Lessons from the Chicago Cubs

By Wes Steele

In October of 2011 the Cubs wrapped up a season finishing 20 games under .500 baseball. The team hasn’t played in the World Series since 1945 and hasn’t won it all since 1908. But on October 12, 2011 the Cubs hired Theo Epstein as President and Jed Hoyer as GM, and the organization began to change. This year in 2016, the Cubs finished the season an astounding 45 gives over .500, an improvement of 65 games from just five years earlier. This was a tremendous feat of management to turn the organization around, and there are a few lessons you can apply to your business.

It all starts with the right vision from leadership.

In Chicago, that meant an assessment of the way things are done. Baseball requires players who can field, run, throw, and hit. So leadership assessed how they measure success in those areas and defined the type of players needed in order to build a team that fields, runs, throws, and hits with a winning formula. By understanding what was needed to build that winning formula, the team was able to establish a step by step plan of actions on an actionable timeline to get to the ultimate goal of having a winning team.

Put foundational building blocks in place.

Do you have everything you need in house today, or do new resources need to be added in order to meet your long-term objectives. The 2011 Chicago Cubs had talent and resources in house that eventually contributed to the organization’s transformation. But, key foundational pieces needed to be added. For the Cubs, that meant player personnel through drafts and free agent signings. For you, it might mean hiring people that can be future key contributors to your organization and letting them grow inside your company culture.

Invest in your foundational building blocks.

For the Cubs, that meant a robust personnel development program. For you, it might mean continuous learning opportunities for employees at all levels of your organization.

Transformation takes time and perseverance.

Change takes time. You may take your lumps while it is happening. You may lose clients or employees, or receive negative feedback during the transformation process. The Cubs record from 2012 to 2014 was 200 – 286. 86 games under .500 over the first 3 seasons of the transformation. Your organization may also take lumps when you pursue a new vision. If upon reflection you conclude your organization still has the right vision for a winning formula, then be patient and allow your vision to develop over time.

Role players and specialists can be added as you grow.

Not every piece the Chicago Cubs added was considered a foundational piece in the beginning. For example, Centerfielder Dexter Fowler was an opportunistic add to the team. He has proven himself a major contributor. Several minor league players could easily be overlooked, but played key roles in the bullpen or as extra outfielders, or as an injury replacement. Not every employee in your organization is destined to be a CEO. But if you build a team of employees that understand their jobs and perform with excellence in their role, your organization will have the capacity to reach incredible heights.

The right attitude means having fun.

In Chicago, that meant a mix of the right personalities on the roster. It also meant bringing in Joe Maddon to steer the ship in the right direction. Productivity and individuality are both key elements of the team culture. What are the benefits of productive yet also fun workplace? Think Human Resources value – this will help you attract and retain the top talent. For the Cubs, it meant being able to sign Jason Heyward, Jon Lester, Dexter Fowler, and others. A side benefit - an appreciated employee is more productive and loyal to their employers. That ultimately ties back to profitability up and down the organization.

Every organization is different. However, these lessons executed by the Chicago Cubs can be applied to any organization of any size in any industry. If you apply each of these lessons effectively at your own corporation, you are likely to reap the rewards personally as a professional and organizationally as an employer.

Wes Steele is President of Steele Benefit Services. Steele’s organization supports the online employee benefit enrollment, employee benefit education, and Affordable Care Act compliance needs for medium and large size employers.  Wes is an avid sports fan and enjoys coaching his two daughters.

This post was originally published on Wes' LinkedIn page, which can be found here.