Take One for the Team

It’s a phrase I heard quite a bit when I played baseball in college  –  “Take One for the Team”.  Players were expected to make a physical sacrifice for the good of the team and it was often painful.  A catcher who blocked the plate with 200lbs of runner charging down the third base line trying to score the winning run.  The middle infielder who keeps his nose down on a rocket one-hopper on a bad infield, risking a solid shot to his chest or face to keep the ball in front of him.  The shortstop who doesn’t step away from the runner sliding into second with his cleats high to ensure the double play is turned.  The pitcher who throws more innings than he should in a lopsided game who sacrifices his arm and his stats to provide rest for other pitchers who will play the next day.  Or most often, the batter who crowds the plate on a hard throwing pitcher, willing to wear one in the ribs or in the back to get the tying run on base late in the game.  These acts are universally well respected by teammates as serving the good of the team ahead of your personal accomplishments.

A good Manager should also know when to take one for the team.

When a project goes sideways and an important date is not met by your team, whether the reasons for going off the rails were within their control or a Force Majeure, you the manager have to take the heat from the big boss.

When an irate customer wants someone’s head on a platter for a late delivery or a botched installation by your team, you the manager have to put your head in the guillotine.

When you ask a member of your team to do things a little different, you the manager have to calm the waters with all the others who object to something new and make sure they know it was your idea.

Taking bullets like these are part of the job for a good manager with training and experience and selflessness acting as body armor.  What made you a good manager protects you, so you can protect them.  Your team doesn’t need to take fire for a mistake twice, once from you and once from an outsider (and yes the big boss is an outsider as far as your team goes).  Whether their failure was small or large, they will have already paid the price and seen their professional self-perception wounded within the team and behind the closed door when you reviewed the situation with them.  And hopefully, they will have taken the correction and criticism personally and learned from it for the future.

When a manager recognizes that a situation requires him to step in between his team and a problem , he must be willing to do so for the long-term benefit of the company. It won’t be as physically painful as getting a fastball in the ribs, but you will likely take some heat from a vendor, a key customer or the big boss.  The personal sting will last a couple of days but the respect from your team will more than compensate for the short-term discomfort.

And earning the trust of your team is the hallmark of a Good Manager.

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