Saddened by the ousting of his beloved Tigers from the baseball playoffs, our own Paul Jacobs draws some sports analogies to the ebb and flow of business.
On the morning after the Tigers' awful, exciting, and depressing defeat in their playoff game of the ages against the Minnesota Twins (who deserved to win, by the way), I was inundated with emails from friends around the country. Folks in Chicago empathized that now we know what it's like to be a Cubs fan. Our Twin Cities colleagues did a great job hiding their glee, and we appreciate their discreet thoughts (damn them). The rest of our friends around the country simply expressed sorrow due to the fact that the Tigers choked gallantly in front of the world, and on the day after, we still get to live in the Motor City.
And with that in mind, here are a few lessons from the Detroit Tigers' 2009 baseball season that applies to all of us, whether you root for the Yankees or could care less about baseball:
1. Every game counts. Losses in April mean as much as losses in September. While the Tigers did well early in the season, they coasted in September, and it cost them a division championship. The way we approach our jobs every day matters more than ever. No matter our business, it's all about performance, especially in this economy. You've got to bring it every day.
2. Team matters. Earlier this year, we attended a seminar led by noted business consultant Ram Charan, along with 100 other CEOs. He talked at length about the challenges the economy poses for business, but his approach was that it's an opportunity to a) evaluate weaker employees who may not be contributing, and b) hire great ones that you've always wanted to have on staff. His point is the strongest team from the receptionist to the CEO will win in this environment, and any weak links will be exposed. That's a tough message for many radio companies, but it's an essential lesson in this environment. Against the Twins, all of the Tigers' weak links were exposed.
3. Leadership is everything. The Tigers are an average team with several flaws. But somehow, manager Jim Leyland was able to overcome the loss of three of his five starters in spring training, problems at the #3 and #5 spots in his batting order due to injury or poor performance, and other speed bumps that happened along the way. Yet somehow, he was able to get his team to execute the basics, and excel when necessary in order to stay in first place from mid-May until the last day of the season. How did he do it? He's not only a great communicator and can read the mood of his team, but he has their respect. He takes a bullet for the team in the press, and never publicly calls out his players. There's no doubt that this team, that was picked for last place by virtually every pundit at the beginning of the season, succeeded because of great management. You're only as good as the person at the top of the flow chart.
4. Don't sit on your lead or let it get to your head. How many times have stations pulled a great book or two, and actually started to believe their greatness - only to have a competitor eat them alive during the next phase or month? The Tigers got a little cocky, even in the last few days of the season, and didn't play with that intensity that keeps you on top and hungry. Stations, managers, and programmers often make that same mistake. When you're winning, don't put it in cruise control. Build on your lead, stomp on your competitors' throats, and realize that it's a marathon and not a sprint.
5. Don't go drinking the night before the game. OK, nobody's perfect, but what happened to Miguel Cabrera can happen to any big-name talent in sales or programming - and often does. The Tigers knew that their star player had a problem, and it appears that they may not have addressed it forcefully enough. And it came back to bite them the last weekend of the season. Did Cabrera cost them the championship? It's hard to tell, but if the Tigers had dealt with the problem when it first arose, maybe it wouldn't have harmed their chances at crunch time on the last weekend of the season.
So what are the lessons we can learn from the Tigers' tough loss? Bring it every day. You're only as strong as your weakest player, keep your foot on the gas, and you should critically look at your team to make sure you've got the right players in the right places to deal with an ever-changing business climate.