By John Foust

During one spring training season, the New York Yankees’ Nick Swisher asked baseball icon Yogi Berra for some hitting advice. Yogi told him to take a step toward the plate and a step toward the pitcher. “You’re letting the pitch break down on you too much. That’s why these guys are getting you out.”

“That’s it?” asked Swisher.

“That’s it,” Yogi said.

In his next time at bat – and against the same pitcher – Swisher took Yogi’s advice and hit a stand-up double. When he returned to the dugout, Yogi praised him and said, “You see? All you have to do is make contact with the baseball. Move up against a breaking-ball pitcher.”

Yogi had recognized the problem immediately. While Swisher could hit the fastball, it was the breaking pitch that bothered him. By moving up in the batter’s box, he could cut the pitch’s distance.

Today’s sales managers would be wise to follow Yogi’s example of leading by littles. That is, helping people grow one manageable step at a time. Here are some points to keep in mind:

1. Keep it simple. With 10 World Series championship rings and a plaque in baseball’s Hall of Fame, Yogi Berra is a walking encyclopedia of baseball. But it’s not his style to clutter a ballplayer’s mind with unnecessary information. One simple suggestion – one small thing that Swisher could do on his next at bat – was all that Yogi needed to mention.

Many managers make the mistake of overloading their staffs with too many instructions at one time. Do it this way, they say. And be sure to do that.  And don’t forget this other thing. And have it all done by tomorrow.

By seeing immediate results, Swisher boosted his confidence. Yogi knew that asking him to do everything at once would not produce a successful experience.

2. Pay attention. When Swisher asked for help, Yogi didn’t have to do an exhaustive analysis of his batting average, on-base percentages or his lifetime record against that particular pitcher. As a student of the game, Yogi had been watching each player carefully throughout spring training – so he could be ready with help at a moment’s notice.

Sales managers should do the same. By getting to know their people, by studying them from the corner of the dugout, they will be in a better position to offer do-able suggestions.

3. Celebrate success. The best sales managers recognize the accomplishments of their individual team members. While it’s not necessary to throw a party after a big sale (in reality, that strategy could backfire by discouraging those sales people who have not had a big sale lately), it is important to help successful sales people feel good about their successes. Words of praise can go a long way toward helping a manager accomplish the first order of business: building people.

Leadership is not a matter of changing everything at once. It’s simply changing one thing at a time – knowing that little changes add up to something bigger.


About John Foust

John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. Email for information: Article (c) Copyright 2014 by John Foust. All rights reserved.

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