We may overuse sports analogies as a way of trying to understand business, but it occurred to me recently that sports management does one thing much better than business:
It gives coaches the chance to take breaks and gain perspective.
Granted, these breaks often come in the form of being fired. But it’s generally considered a plus when a coach has moved around from team to team, because that allows the coach to gain different perspectives.
One example is Jim Leyland, who managed the Pittsburgh Pirates and Florida Marlins, but stepped away after one season with the Colorado Rockies because he was exhausted and needed a break.
It was only after he was out of the game for six years that he returned and became the Detroit Tigers’ manager. In his first year back, he took them to the World Series.
Many people were surprised. They thought Leyland would be “rusty” after so many years away. But it turned out the six-year sabbatical brought him back sharper and hungrier. And the Tigers responded well to his insights and style of leadership.
I sometimes wonder why we don’t do this in the business world.
Many a top-level executive, or even a CEO or business owner, spends so many years at the helm of one company that he or she has a hard time gaining perspective on anything outside those same four walls. What would happen with some of these leaders if they did like university professors do, and took a sabbatical?
What might they learn if they had a little time to refresh their mental batteries? What different perspective might they gain if they spent their days somewhere other than the same office where they’ve been the leader for years? Or decades?
Often a business finds that it’s hitting a plateau. It’s doing fine but it’s not sure how to move things to the next level, and the CEO is fresh out of new ideas to get it off center. Yet the CEO is the unquestioned leader, and no one dares suggest he or she be switched out for a different leader.
I’m going to dare to suggest it.
I believe there are three ideas – which would be considered radical in the business world – that should be considered mainstream moves:
Give the leader a break. Seriously. Let your CEO go off somewhere and refresh his or her thinking. Remove the leader from the company for a time – not as a punishment, but in recognition of the fact that the same day-to-day routine is not going to generate new or different results.
I realize there will be resistance to this idea, perhaps most of all from the CEO himself or herself. Who wants to run the risk of letting someone else get in the captain’s chair and maybe do better? But if it’s good for you and good for the company, you can’t resist it out of fear or insecurity.
If the CEO is the right person for the job, the job will still be there when the break has accomplished its purpose.
Let two companies exchange CEOs. I know companies do this sometimes as a symbolic thing. I’m talking about doing it for real. Maybe for six months. Maybe for a year. Let two CEOs of similar qualifications, but from different kinds of companies, switch jobs. Let each bring his or her own different perspectives to the new environment. Both the leaders and the companies could benefit from the fresh thinking. Each CEO might ask questions or present ideas that his or her counterpart never did, simply because the limits of their perspective didn’t allow it.
If this is done right, it could be great for all parties.
Change out team leaders and managers more frequently. They do this in sports too. Last year’s third-base coach is this year’s hitting coach. A guy who was another team’s bullpen coach is now your team’s pitching coach.
Sometimes you’ve got a talented person, but they’re not in the right role. Why keep people where they’re neither thriving nor reaching their full potential? People tend to get comfortable in certain roles, but that’s not the same as thriving in those roles. Moving people around and keeping things fresh – not just for the sake of doing it but because it really leads to better results – is something companies should be more open to.
Bigger corporations are usually more open to this kind of thing than smaller ones. Big corporations have lots of people and lots of resources. If they want to give someone a break, there are plenty of people who can cover. If they want to move people around, there are plenty of places to put them.
But smaller companies can make these ideas work as well. It might not be as easy to cover the roles or to move people around, but if it makes sense you can make it work. I know it’s not the way we normally think. But no one thought those 2006 Tigers were going to get anywhere near the World Series. You’d be surprised at what a talented leader coming off a sabbatical can do.
Written by: Wade Wyant
Red Wagon Advisors
West Michigan’s Scaling Up Coach