Expectations are Invisible

Expectations are Invisible

This is Part 4 of My LinkedIn Series: Leadership Lessons from Little League

As little league manager, I become the repository of knowledge about the game. I also learned the expectations for each position. This is not always fun. In baseball this meant reading the little league rule book.

You may not know this (not many people do), little league is NOT baseball, it is a game designed to LOOK like baseball. It is a game little kids can play.  The real rules of baseball allow for a lot of wacky things you never see.  Why? Because at higher levels, the professional's player's skill level keeps everything in check.  However, with little kids, "pro rules" can lead to pandemonium.

As a result, little league tweaks the rules to make the game look like the one we all see on TV.  Without that, little league games would degenerate into chaotic snowball fights.

In my experience, effective management tames chaos and promotes productive application of effort. I believe a manager should not only know, but also embody the rules their people play by. The manager puts players in positions so they can work as a team to succeed at a common goal.

The manager is the walking library, the map of how all the pieces fit together.  That way she can provide clear answers to players as to what is expected of them, why, when, and how it all fits together.

While practice was mostly about skill development, having this knowledge also allowed me to teach the game.  I used water breaks to make the rules and principles clear.  I set out baseball trading cards on a diamond drawn in the dirt.  The kids would gather round.  I would move a marble - representing the ball - then ask, "What happens if the batter hits it here?"  Players would answer by moving the trading cards to where they needed to be.

This allowed them to develop a mental model for the whole team. They could see how their position contributed to the team effort. I worked hard to make it clear EVERYONE had a role on every play.  Not just the player fielding the ball.  When an opponent hit a ball against the Tempe South Red Sox, 9 kids moved as one.  One kid called for the ball and tried to catch it.  Four others moved to cover their bases, while the rest anticipated a bad throw and moved to back it up.  We had a great defense as a result.

While this was clear to me in baseball, I missed it in business for a long time.  Why? Because in business I deal with adults!  I did not realize that expectations are INVISIBLE. They must be made clear.

Clear expectations with well understood responsibilities are as effective in business as they are on the diamond.  Once you have that in place, continuous skill improvement starts to unlock a team's potential.

The moral of the story: As a manager your job is to know the "rules" of the game and how all the players are expected to perform. That way you can be a resource to help your people work as a team.

Prev: Coaching Attitude and Effort