No team in professional sports has had a longer drought between championship appearances than the Chicago Cubs. Until this year, the Cubs hadn’t played in a World Series in more than 70 years. As I think about their magical season, the Cubs have given me several lessons to implement in my business and recommend to my company’s clients.
I’ve been a sports fan my whole life, and a season ticket holder to the Cubs for 20 years, and I love seeing great games. Win or lose, here are some business lessons that are applicable to all enterprises:
Focus. Major League Baseball’s regular season is 162 games long. The postseason extends that number by as many 19 games. Professional athletes are virtually all in outstanding shape. Physical talents aside, it takes an enormous amount of mental energy to perform well throughout a long season and at key moments.
Enterprises similarly need to keep their eye on the prize, whatever that strategic goal might be. For the Cubs, it’s to win a world championship. For business leaders, it may be about achieving a revenue target or sustaining growth in shareholder value. The point is, those things don’t happen without consistent effort over time, and it takes focus to get there.
Teamwork. What seems so simple on paper — everybody works together — is remarkably hard to execute in real life. Just ask any enterprise business executive. There are lot of distractions and personal issues that can prevent people from jelling as a cohesive, high-performing group. When a collection of talented individuals puts their own egos and desires aside, and they have strong leadership with a good game plan, teams win. Cubs manager Joe Maddon and the players themselves should get a lot of credit for staying focused and coming together as a team. They all put in the effort to enable the team to win, and that’s why the Cubs had the best record in baseball in 2016.
Authenticity. This word has multiple meanings, including “genuine” and “original.” Being authentic is critical for any individual or organization to truly engage others. In the context of a sports team or an enterprise with years of history, authenticity is also about the here and now, and forgetting whatever happened last year. In my view, authenticity is about being “in the moment.”
Another reason the 2016 Cubs have defied skeptics: they refuse to be distracted by or try to carry the weight of past expectations. According to legend, the Chicago Cubs suffer from a curse dating back to the 1945 World Series, when a fan, William Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, tried to bring his pet goat to cheer on the team. The goat was turned away and Sianis reportedly said, “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field.” Until this year, the Cubs came close a few times but failed even to reach the World Series.
What’s different now? This year’s Cubs weren’t focused on the 70 years of history, the curse, etc. They focused on playing better each game and working together as a team. That’s a fantastic recipe for any organization. You can’t achieve your potential if you’re stuck in the past, if you aren’t really in the moment right now — being authentic — and doing the things today that will give you success tomorrow.