What the World Series Can Teach Us

Want to get ahead in your job this year? Tune in and watch the World Series. That’s not just a game you’re watching—that’s a study in three key elements everyone needs to succeed in the workplace.

1.) Grit. This is the Big Show, where it’s often the team who wants it the most that will win. That’s certainly true this year, with two wild card players, Kansas City and San Francisco, competing for the trophy. They overcame great odds. Neither underdog team had the best record in their division coming into the playoffs. What they had was the most grit.

There have been many great moments of grit in baseball. One occurred in the LA World Series of 1988, which my husband and I attended. It was game one, the LA Dodgers were playing the Oakland Athletics, and LA was down by one run in the ninth, with two men out. There was a man on base with one out left to go. It looked bleak. Dodger’s power hitter Kirk Gibson wasn’t playing due to injuries in both legs and a stomach virus. All of us fans gasped when Gibson hobbled out of the dugout to pinch hit. He batted to a full count, and a moment later he somehow powered a homerun with pure upper body strength, and raw grit. The Dodgers won 5-4, and took the World Series in five games.

The baseball field is much like the work place, the ‘playing field’ where men and women gather every day, and those with the most resilience and drive make their way to senior roles. Baseline talent gets you into the game, but it’s the grit to keep pushing that makes winners. Winning takes staying power. I tell many women I work with today that talent is necessary, but not sufficient to get us into senior roles. We also need grit.

I attended a conference a few years back where former ABC TV newscaster Meredith Vierra told a story from early in her career. One Friday her boss called her in and told her she wasn’t cutting it at the company, and he fired her. She went home very distraught, and her dad asked her what was wrong. She told him her boss didn’t think she had what it takes. He paused, then asked, “What do you think?” She thought a second, and said she didn’t agree. Then she got mad. The following Monday she walked into her boss’ office and told him she did have what it takes! He rehired her.

2.) Composure. Batters come into the box and often take a deep breath before they face down the pitcher. Pitchers, too, use deep breathing techniques to regroup on the mound, or to slow themselves down before delivering the next pitch. Hitters and pitchers who are calm and levelheaded—composed—are enormously effective. Composure is important in the workplace too. Having a calm and confident presence shows you’re grounded, and in control. It communicates to the work team that you make rational, well-reasoned decisions. Composure is important for women, because there still aren’t many of us in senior roles and like the pitcher on the mound, people are watching. Finding techniques to remain composed in the workplace is key.

3.) Win—and Lose—with Grace. Baseball teaches that winning and losing are just a part of the game, as they are a part of one’s work experience. For women, this is an especially important lesson. Most of us working today didn’t play team sports growing up like little boys did. We didn’t play with the frequency, if we played at all. So when we come into the workplace as adults, how the game of business is played out diverges dramatically. Men play to win or lose and seldom make it personal. It’s just a game. Women try for win-wins, which is a laudable goal, but rarely happens in practice. When one loses, it’s often tough not to take it personally. We learn how to lose only with practice. Then we come to see that losing means you’re in the game, you’re squarely on the playing field, and you can, and will, win next time. With more practice, it becomes easier to take loss in stride, to handle it with grace, and to step up with more grit the next time to get the win.

Baseball has some of the finest examples of taking loss with grace. Perhaps the greatest one involved an unspectacular pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, named Armando Gallaraga. In the summer of 2010, Gallaraga found himself one out away from a perfect game. He would be vaulted into the baseball elite. With two out in the ninth, Gallaraga threw a pitch and the batter connected and began running to first. Man out! Except, umpire Jim Joyce called him safe. Everyone could see it was the wrong call. The stands erupted. But what was done was done.

Before this 2014 season, there was no call review in baseball (except for homerun challenges). Gallaraga’s perfect game was lost. Later ump Joyce reviewed the tape, and saw that he’d blown the call. Meanwhile, the press hounded Gallaraga but he kept quiet. No badmouthing. No complaints. The next night Joyce umped at Comerica Park again, and Gallaraga emerged from the dugout, holding the lineup card which he walked over to Joyce, and then shook his hand. And for the first time in baseball history, a game official broke down and cried on national television. Later, when asked about it, Gallaraga had three words to say: “Everybody makes mistakes.” So Armando Gallaraga did not go down in baseball history for pitching a perfect game. Instead he’ll be remembered as a quiet pitcher who handled loss with grace and courage.

This story reminds us that loss can have little, or in Gallaraga’s case, nothing to do with one’s personal contributions. In the work setting, examples of that are group layoffs and company mergers. Learning to distinguish between losing due to team circumstance, versus losing because of one’s mistakes, is critical conditioning for senior management roles.

Mistakes, or ‘errors’ in baseball terms, are the one way that baseball teaches a unique lesson. In 1991 Baseball Commissioner Francis Vincent said “I find it fascinating that baseball, alone in all sports, considers errors to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.” Mistakes are a natural part of any game we play, including the game of business. Baseball scorekeepers record errors and throw them up on the scoreboard for all to see. Errors are counted just like runs and hits—these three data points are indelible parts of the game. On our playing field/workplace, mistakes are just a part of our rigorous truth, that which says perfection is a myth, and it is errors, missteps, that teach us the most lasting lessons.

In all of these elements—grit, composure, losing with grace—baseball is a great teacher for our work lives, and perhaps our home lives too. So as the World Series gets played out this week, pay attention to the whole game. Every part has its lessons to teach.

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Lots of Drama

Throughout my career I negotiated with men, and since my work was in the cable programming industry, I followed its rules of conduct (or lack thereof) to get deals done. It was my ‘normal’, my ecosystem, if you will, in getting wins for the companies I represented.

Just recently, my friend Gina Bianchini, co-founder of Ning and inventor of Mightybell, told me to watch a great video on YouTube from Stanford’s Dr. Maggie Neale on best practices in negotiating. It was fascinating! If I were starting out fresh today, this would be the way to do it—under most conditions. I say ‘most conditions’ because here was the stark truth of my negotiating environment — most times I was David, and the guy across the table was Goliath. And a cranky Goliath at that.

One time I took my boss, CEO Ken Lowe, now chairman and CEO of Scripps Networks Interactive, to Denver to call on the largest cable company at the time. We were to begin our negotiations for the carriage of HGTV on their systems, which were necessary for us to grow to a national footprint. We waited for 2 hours before being asked to come in, which was not an accident. The client was signaling to us that this deal would be done on his time, on his terms. He was looking for a one-sided win. All his.

My experience was pretty much always like this, with the guy across the table trying to bully his way to a one-sided win. The cable guys held most of the cards because new programmers needed to build national distribution. The cable guys knew it, and they used it.

Back to Denver: we were finally called in, and the would-be customer began a monologue about non-starters for him, which were — not surprisingly — things we had to have on our side for the deal to make sense. When he finally came up for air, Ken and I asked a few questions. His answers were even more ridiculous than his monologue. It was time for some drama on my part.

I got up, declared the meeting over and Ken and I walked out. The look on the client’s face was telling: how dare this little company walk out on me! As we made our way to the airport, I told Ken we had to do that, so we could swing some leverage our way. Sure they would still control a lot of the deal, but we wouldn’t be pummeled into submission. The client called a couple of weeks later and we began some meaningful dialog. After two long years (yep, deals could take that long to extract decent terms) we had a good deal.

My point: I learned from Dr. Neale’s video is that there is another, more reasonable route one should employ when doing deals. It wouldn’t have worked for me given my market conditions, but her methods will work for most. Take a good look at her video. There’s a lot of learning there.

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The Tell

Professional poker players will say that winning is not all about odds and probabilities. If you’re playing at the top of your game it’s about reading others, watching their physical mannerisms which “tell” if they have good cards, or not. The tell is body language which conveys something about your opponent. When Oprah Winfrey interviewed disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong after he was banned for doping, a body language expert reviewed Armstrong’s performance and said he betrayed his fear by looking away from Oprah rather than looking her in the eye, and he kept taking deep breaths and swallowing hard, signs of nervousness and anxiety. He also wrung his hands, a sign of someone under pressure.

If you walk into a negotiating session and your opponent is leaning back in his chair with his feet up on his desk, he’s telling you he has the power. He’s Alpha Dog. Don’t let it throw you. Politely press on. Sometimes that Y chromosome can take up the whole room if you let it.

There can be a lot of theater that goes on in negotiations which can really add some fun and spice to the game.

Perhaps the strangest example of the tell I experienced was with a good guy in the business, who I was just getting to know. We had some deal work before us. When I first walked in to his office, he stood and I realized he was quite short for a man, perhaps 5 foot 4 inches or 5 foot 5. I always wore heels in negotiations to give my puny, 5 foot 2 inch frame some stature.

We moved into his conference room together, and as soon as I sat he seemed to relax. He did a lot of the negotiating standing and walking around. After a couple of sessions, I noticed that his overall demeanor toward me was far more accommodating when he was able to look down at me. The next session, I wore flats, testing a theory I had about the whole dynamic. Sure enough, when I walked into his office to greet him, he stood, clearly comfortable, and we had the most productive session in our history together. He sat the whole time we worked and we comfortably exchanged volleys. What game was he playing? My game was: make money. Who knows what his was? I’m a business person, not a psychologist. The next couple of times I wore flats and the scoreboard lit up big for HGTV.

The tell can be things you least expect. Women are great observers, and it helps us to be good in uncovering them.
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By |October 18th, 2013|Gamesmanship, Leadership, Negotiation, Women in business|0 Comments

No Shortcuts

I don’t have a technical bone in my body. So why I would choose an industry steeped in wires, cables, and satellite dishes, well, I truly don’t know. But when I started my career, engineers were my customers, and I had to learn their business if I was to be effective. I was representing Home Box Office to these guys, and it was up to them to put it on their systems, which they’d then transmit into peoples’ homes. We needed the cable guys so that HBO could have viewers.

That’s why I found myself, on a blustery winter day in Peoria, Illinois, at the top of a phone pole with my client. He was stunned I was willing to be up there with him, so once we made the climb, he taught me about his wires and cables like a proud dad. When we climbed down I asked to see his “head end” which housed his receiving equipment, so we went into the air-conditioned room ( on a winter day, in the frigid Midwest–get the picture?) and we talked about his receivers, modulators and satellite dishes.

HBO was added to his channel line-up after that call.

There are no shortcuts to learning what we need to know to be successful in our jobs. You must take the time to study and understand your customer and their business, as if you could do his or her job yourself. Never be shy to ask questions. Clients will be pleased that you genuinely want to solve their problems. And if you’re worth your salt, you do. I call this “getting into the head of your customer.” It’s a great, winning strategy for success.

Later in my career, one of my customer groups was shareholders as I was Chief Operating Officer of HGTV, a division of a publicly traded company called Scripps Networks. I had to stand up in a room full of investors and answer questions about our profits (or lack there of in the early years), our plans for growing revenues, and other related questions. Finance was a new language for me. I had to learn it, and I did that on the job through studying our financial statements and asking our Chief Financial Officer about them. Endlessly. I’m sure I wore him out. But to be credible with our investment company and to manage budgets, I had to know this. I also took an executive financial management tract at Darden to learn more.

There are no shortcuts to the top. We have to learn all the stuff along the way. Think of it as ongoing college or grad school, with pay. It’s part of the adventure of the job. With the will and the discipline to learn, we can succeed. We can win.
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By |February 8th, 2013|Career development, Learning, Negotiation, Women in business|1 Comment

Gamesmanship

Stan Musial died this week. Most baseball fans, like me, know what a powerhouse athlete he was. He was called a “gamer” in the media coverage, which meant someone who comes through when the game’s on the line. For women, this one thing—being a gamer—can help us to have great career success like Stan did in baseball.

The word “gamer” has become associated with players of video games, but the Stan Musial definition is more apt for business people. It’s an attitude—an inner, competitive drive to win when the game’s on the line. In our case the game is business, and the win is moving our careers and our companies to the next level of success.

Gamesmanship is not easy for women; I give whole seminars on the topic. We aren’t socialized this way, as men are. It comes easier for us to cooperate than to compete. It helps if we’ve played sports as a child growing up. There we learn how awesome it feels to win on a ball field, and how to take losing in stride without personalizing it.

Here’s one example of being a gamer that women have trouble with: In a business negotiation, there is a certain rhythm to the back and forth as offers are thrown out, accepted or rejected, and new creative ways are advanced to close a deal. Less is more in terms of the verbal volley. There will inevitably be that moment when you must pause, and wait. The wait can feel interminable. You must be comfortable in the silence. For some reason we have the need to fill that yawning gap of time with our words.  Doing that can crush you in a negotiation. Count to 60 (not 10 or 20—60) slowly, quietly to yourself. Keep waiting until the other party responds to you. Maintain eye contact while you are waiting.

Some gamer things women do very well, like anticipating the opponent’s next move. Pro athletes watch a lot of taped footage of the next team they’re playing so they can anticipate how the plays will go down, and to uncover the team’s strengths and weaknesses. We do this in business with thorough preparation. For example, if you are a candidate up for a promotion, preparing for the interview(s) is critical. Roleplaying what might be asked of you and how you should put your best foot forward—these are gamer moves. I have found women to be absolutely excellent in anticipating clients’ and colleagues’ next moves when the game is really on the line.

There are many other techniques to being a successful gamer, such as the art of the bluff, reading the ‘tell’ (a huge one in professional poker), and the walk away. The key to all of this is your mindset. Always know that if you lose a round, the next day you’ll probably win one. Learn from it, regroup, and go back on the field, or, if you’ll forgive my mixed metaphors, go back into the scrum. I promise that if you think like a gamer, you’ll come out of the muddy mess with the ball.
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