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Paul Baard's Motivation Matters: Build a winning culture in business

February 18. 2018 10:29PM

Spring training in baseball affords an excellent opportunity to view contrasting leadership styles. This is a time when managers and coaches attempt to hone the skills and knowledge of their players and to cultivate a sense of team.

While these are talented, experienced, highly paid individuals who have spent the better part of their lives preparing for excellence on the field, they will spend numerous weeks getting up to full speed, with their team, before the season opener.

As in business, managers set the tone. Will they promote collaboration or internal competition? Are coaches there to support and encourage or to blame and knock down? Are the locker room and the dugout safe places to be for the rookie, as well as the veteran? On the one hand you have the “players’ coach” who relates well to his club; at the other extreme, the uber-controlling manager.

Indeed, many businesses have adopted the nomenclature of sports, and appropriately so. Corporations and other entities are goal-oriented, get timely feedback, and aspire to stay keenly competitive in this global economy. Market share data and other matrices reveal how one is performing against competition.

We are now entering a season of athletic events that permit the student of leadership to make many observations of contrasting managerial styles. Baseball’s spring training season and college basketball’s March Madness NCAA tournament permit numerous observations of coaching behaviors, albeit at opposite ends of their respective seasons.

Most businesses have recently come through year-end budgets, business plans, staff evaluations, and salary and bonus allocations. Given that, this may be an opportune time to step back and make changes that could benefit the organization’s culture. If this is not the right time of year in your business setting, you would be well-served to find some time within the year where a critical look may be taken at how things are working — and not working — in your organization.

Forward-thinking and action-oriented leaders move the culture in an organization. A key characteristic is the willingness to change — including themselves.

Imagine taking all of your managers and other employees away for six weeks of training to get the organization humming. Not feasible. Granted. Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, how many managers in business simply state that they expect their people to perform extraordinarily, that that is what they pay them to do? It seems to me there is a whole lot of room elsewhere on this continuum to allow for team development and strategic analysis.

The research is in: When leaders present a work environment that taps into employees’ intrinsic or self-motivation amazing things happen. Productivity goes up, anxiety-related illness goes down and creativity is sparked — among other positive results.

For those business leaders who are hoping to tap into this kind of motivation to build a winning culture and to bring about the best performance by their teams, here are some diagnostic questions to consider:

1. Is your team empowered? Are your players able to offer ideas and get a reasonable hearing? Are they free to express themselves and their doubts? Is there the opportunity to influence how their jobs are done? Are they free to make mistakes (within reason)?

2. Is your team optimally challenged? Are goals set that require stretching beyond current knowledge and skills, but are not nearly impossible? Is feedback on progress readily available? Does each person on the team have a chance to grow in the months ahead, taking on new responsibilities or developing additional skills?

3. Is your group a “true team”? Is the emphasis of corporate plans one that promotes internal collaboration? Are victories celebrated team-wide? When shortcomings occur do you go into problem-solving sessions, or are they really “blame-storming” ones? Differences in team cultures can be seen up close in competitive sports, and much can be learned as business leaders observe and analyze management and team dynamics.

Leaders are responsible for the culture of their teams. They are like magnets drawing people together. Or not.

Dr. Paul P. Baard is an organizational psychologist, specializing in motivation, with Fordham University, a former senior line executive in the television industry, and the lead author of a book on leadership and motivation. He and Veronica Baard, a former managing director responsible for HR at a major international investment banking firm, head up Baard Consulting LLC, a firm in the greater Boston area, focusing on motivation, conflict reduction, and team building. Questions are welcomed at

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