Spring Training Lesson: Accountable Leadership Means the Rookie Has a Voice

When I talk about accountability, a lot of leaders assume I’m talking about the team’s accountability to the leader. Actually, the whole process starts with the leader’s accountability and their ability to follow through on commitments to the team. One of the most important of those commitments is the leader’s commitment to make sure everyone feels safe in sharing insights and opinions…whether that’s someone who’s been with your organization for years, or someone who just joined yesterday.

I’ll give you a perfect example of what I mean. The St. Louis Cardinals’ leadership makes a point of encouraging everyone on the team — from the greenest rookie to the highest-paid superstar — to share insights, observations, and experiences that can help the team to win on the field. That gives them a major competitive advantage over teams that encourage a “pecking order” approach to communication, which discourages rookies and other recent arrivals from contributing.

Here’s how I know the Cardinals make sure the rookie has a voice. A couple of years ago utility infielder Yairo Munoz was a rookie. His manager, Mike Shildt, has a routine of bringing all the players together on a daily basis to ask questions, share experiences, and swap good ideas. Munoz, a rookie who was earning a fraction of what the Cardinals’ top players earned, felt comfortable enough in one of these meetings to tell everyone in the room that an upcoming pitcher the team would be facing soon was one he had faced often in the minor leagues. In the minors, Munoz recalled, the pitcher had made a habitual mistake: he failed to check on baserunners before starting his pitching motion.

The manager’s team followed up on this, and confirmed, via video, that the pitcher did in fact routinely make this mistake. Now they have a little more information about who to steal on!

Isn’t that the kind of information you want if you’re leading a team? And isn’t it the leader’s responsibility to ensure that everyone on the team — rookies, superstars, and everyone in between — feels comfortable sharing that kind of information?

Do you do what Shildt does? Do you gather the entire team together on a regular basis for the express purpose of sharing ideas? When someone who’s new to the organization, or who holds a position on your team that isn’t “high” on the organizational chart, shares an idea or experience, what is your response? Do you welcome the person’s insight? Do you offer appropriate praise and reinforcement for the “rookie’s” contribution? Do you make sure everyone has a voice?

If not, consider following the Cardinals’ lead … and taking a lesson from their spring training routine. You never know who might be moving up.

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December 2021
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