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The Culture of Outstanding Leadership

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Updated: March 14, 2016

An original piece written by the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Sports Medicine & Performance Team

Introduction

“The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development.  There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develops them.” – John C. Maxwell

Culture is born from a way of thinking that in turn drives consistent behavior and develops to bind a collection of like-minded individuals often times of vastly different backgrounds.  A culture that focuses on the leadership development of its members has existed and grown within the Arizona Diamondbacks Sports Medicine and Performance Team for several years now.  This culture can be defined by an established code of shared core values that exist to guide the mindsets and actions of every member of our Team on a daily basis.  In other words, they serve as our benchmarks for leadership development.  The core values of humility, integrity, work ethic, positive attitude, communication, continuing education and relationship building comprise the foundation of which the Diamondbacks Sports Medicine & Performance culture of leadership has been constructed.

Humility

“Leave your ego at the door” has become somewhat of an unofficial mantra of the Diamondbacks Sports Medicine and Performance Team, spoken with the purpose of both informing brand new hires and reminding existing ones of the all-important need for owning the fundamental virtue of humility in our culture.  The choice to think less about yourself and more about how you can help your teammates contribute to the team’s mission fuels an atmosphere of strong trust, loyalty and sense of togetherness.  We firmly believe that ultimately any team, regardless of the setting, is always greater than the sum of its parts.  Although all members of our team have different roles/responsibilities, some carrying more skill/experience than others, one individual is never looked upon as “above” another in regard to the collective performance of the team.  When all members buy in to a “we before me” mentality, team performance is given the chance to reach its highest capacity as it leads to an empowering atmosphere where all members have the opportunity to contribute in some way to the overall mission of the team. The feeling of self-worth gained from the contribution to a greater cause than oneself is a powerful motivator for strong and consistent individual performance.  True humility is present when a collection of individuals each choose to base their decision making on how the team will be affected rather than the personal implications involved.  This is an atmosphere that we hold in the utmost regard and strive to reproduce every single day.  In our culture, one example requiring the display of humility is the end-of-day Spring Training debriefings during which we utilize an open forum led by an appointed “moderator” who changes on a daily basis.  During this forum, we discuss the day’s injuries and determine plans of action for the following day, appreciating and incorporating input from each teammate willing to contribute.  This event requires the humility to being open and accepting of the ideas of others in addition to having “Team Ability”, a phrase borrowed from the Navy Seals which signifies the willingness to lead and be led regardless of “rank” or experience level.  Ultimately, the goal of a good sports medicine and performance team is to have the athletes’ best healthcare and development as priority, which requires the humility of every member to check his ego, value his teammates’ contributions and disregard personal agenda.

Integrity

According to business leader and renowned motivational speaker Byrd Baggett, integrity is “doing what you said you would do, when you said you would do it, and how you said you would do it.”  In other words, be honest and committed to acting with integrity in all situations at all times, especially when no one is watching.  In our culture of leadership development, speaking and acting with integrity are fundamental expectations that breed trust and reliability amongst teammates.  Per our belief, an individual lacking integrity will never be a meaningful leader as he will be unable to set a high moral standard and demonstrate to his teammates that he is worthy of their respect and followship.  True leaders set the moral compass for the environment and teammates must have the confidence in their leader that he will always act in the best interest of the team.  This predictability in moral decision-making creates a feeling of security as all teammates will know what standard they will be held to and how they will be treated.  Acting with integrity applies to all levels of experience in our culture whether it is our Major League Head Athletic Trainer shunning undue credit and instead celebrating the contributions of teammates or a first-year hire choosing to clean the weight room so his teammates wouldn’t have to.  Undoubtedly, great leadership is never devoid of integrity.

Work Ethic

Coaching legend John Wooden summed up the power of work ethic so simply when he stated “nothing will work unless you do.”  Although existing as perhaps the most unsophisticated core value, work ethic is among the most emphasized principles in regard to importance in our culture of leadership development.  The beauty about strong, consistent effort is that it requires no talent whatsoever, yet is the main vehicle for which an individual’s talent becomes fully utilized.  The reality of our job setting is that quite often situations arise beyond our control; however, our ability to maintain the utmost effort in our response to these situations remains among the few things fully within our control.  We strongly believe that failure while putting forth maximal effort to succeed is necessary in the process of learning and developing, however failure in the presence of minimal or no effort on the other hand serves no purpose.  In the context of leadership, work ethic is a team tone setter that proves one’s reliability to his teammates and commitment to excellence.  An individual without work ethic essentially becomes an anchor weighing down his teammates and holding back the forward progress of the team.  Each year during our Sports Medicine & Performance team meetings in Spring Training, we take the opportunity to teach new hires and remind all others of the absolute necessity of consistent work ethic in our setting by emphasizing the statement “Players or staff can never say we are the reason that they didn’t get better.”  Furthermore, all team members are challenged to hold themselves accountable by asking themselves the question “Can I look myself in the mirror and honestly say I gave my best effort today?”  Ultimately, success is never guaranteed; however without leadership setting the example for a strong work ethic and inspiring teammates to live the message as well, the mere opportunity to succeed may never appear.

Positive Attitude

Similar to work ethic, positive attitude is another core value of our leadership development culture that we believe is easily controllable.  In his book The Difference Maker: Making Your Attitude Your Greatest Asset, leadership author John Maxwell proclaims “the emotion you continually feed is the one that will dominate your life.”  Simply stated, attitude is a choice.  When a leader makes the conscious decision to infuse positive energy consistently in the team environment, the effect can be contagious, spreading from teammate to teammate and inspiring optimism, motivation, productivity and cohesion within the team.  The potential team benefits of a positive attitude take on heightened importance and necessity within the baseball setting.  As great as the sport is, failure is often encountered due to the nature of the game which consequently can produce a breeding ground for negative thoughts and emotions for those either playing or working in the environment.  Knowing this, we as members of the Sports Medicine and Performance Team challenge ourselves to recognize the presence of negativity within our team, demonstrate control of our emotions if they gravitate toward the negativity and make the choice to contribute positive thoughts or actions as much as possible.  No one is perfect; however, sometimes all it takes is one teammate in one instance to demonstrate a positive attitude in the face of negativity to inspire others to shift gears and do the same.  Due to the contagious nature of attitude in a team setting, great team leaders recognize that they are responsible through their words and actions for setting the tone of positivity as well as identifying and eradicating the presence of negativity for the benefit of the team’s success.

Communication

The significance and potential impact of a leader with the ability to communicate well cannot be overstated.  Author and former presidential speechwriter James Humes eloquently wrote “the art of communication is the language of leadership.”  Great communication must be present for great leadership to exist.  According to our view, effective communication requires the possession of four main interpersonal skills.  The first skill and perhaps most important is listening.  For communication to be meaningful one must have genuine interest in the thoughts and emotions of the other participants in the interaction, requiring deliberate focus at all times in the conversation.  Listening attentively is an empowering action as it produces a sense of value and respect for the person speaking.  One-sided conversation, impatiently waiting for others to finish talking so one can lecture and displaying routinely distracted behavior (i.e. looking at cell phone) are all signs of likely poor listening ability.  Another prerequisite skill needed for effective communication is empathy.  Truly impressive communicators have the willingness and ability to accurately perceive the feelings of another person by sharing that person’s perspective.  Although not always fully agreeing with teammates’ thoughts, leaders who habitually put themselves in others’ shoes demonstrate that they appreciate another individual’s experience and truly care about that person’s worth to the team which fosters connection.  The third skill is speaking with clarity, concision and confidence.  Clarity eliminates confusion and assumption which can become quite disruptive to productivity, while being concise allows the listener to easily retain and reproduce the message.  In addition, a confident speaker creates buy-in and a sense of credibility from the audience for the message being delivered.  Lastly, the fourth skill is “being impeccable to your word” as described in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements.  Leaders communicating with the courage needed to say what they mean at all times and acting according to what they say cultivates trust and reliability from teammates for the integrity of the leader cannot be questioned.  Within our Sports Medicine & Performance Team culture, evidence of our belief in the utmost importance of good communication can be seen in everything from how our team is structured to how we interact with each other throughout the year.  We are unquestionably convinced that continuity of philosophy from the Major League staff all the way through the Rookie-level staff must be in place for us to function at the highest level.  We pride ourselves on the fact that players will be exposed to the same healthcare and performance training message regardless of the level throughout the organization.  This type of structure allows for a clear understanding from the players of our collective purpose in addition to ease of communication between our staff members whom are all pulling in the same philosophical direction so to speak.  We also view quality communication between the athletic training and strength and conditioning sub-departments as absolutely essential to us having an opportunity to fulfill our potential as a team.  Being that we believe that both athletic training and strength and conditioning sub-departments have an equally important and mutually dependent function, we continuously pledge to always be on the same page from a communication standpoint as the healthcare of the athlete takes ultimate priority.  Another example of the impact of good communication in our culture can be found with our yearly Spring Training Evaluations.  At the conclusion of each Spring Training, our team participates in an exercise that allows each team member to evaluate and communicate each of his teammate’s strengths and weaknesses as well as his own in the effort to provide feedback on individual performance.  The impact of this exercise, which is carried out anonymously, is two-fold: it allows teammates to hold each other accountable to improving suggested areas of weakness and at the same time allows each individual to gauge the accuracy of his self-reflection to that of the numerous opinions of his teammates.  We’ve found that the opportunity to openly and honestly communicate with one another via this annual exercise has greatly contributed to the personal and professional development of each team member individually which more importantly has proven to make a positive impact on our team’s growth over the years.

Continuing Education

In the past decade, as our treatment and performance training philosophies have grown and developed into what they are today, one constant within our culture has remained throughout all the change: the emphasis placed on continuing education.   From the oldest to the youngest team member, we see our Sports Medicine and Performance Team as a collection of lifelong learners who understand the absolute necessity of continuously seeking out ways to improve our individual skills and knowledge both personally and professionally.  Continuing education has become a major component of our cultural identity and we often tell prospective hires that if you do not possess a sincere passion for learning and the desire to put forth the effort required to improve yourself then this environment will most definitely not be a fit.  When we refer to the desire for self-improvement, a clear distinction must be made regarding the intent of that desire.  Ultimately, the intent of every team member to improve individually must be born out of the end goal of helping the team improve rather than personal gain exclusively.  This thought process requires each team member to unselfishly be willing to share what he has learned and effectively teach his teammates.  We strongly believe that great leadership starts first with the willingness to lead oneself and end, most importantly, with the ability to positively influence the team.  Grooming teammates to be able to take over leadership positions not only benefits the teammates receiving the information but also the leader, as we believe that the act of teaching is among the most effective ways to both learn and foster healthy motivation for continual improvement.  Examples of the passion for continuing education in our team culture can be found in many ways from hosting yearly course seminars (i.e. PRI, FDM, FRC) at Salt River Fields to developing a website containing basic and advanced levels of technical study material for new or future hires to providing an ample budget allotment to support each team member’s yearly continuing education choices.

Relationships

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  This quote, first credited to former president Teddy Roosevelt, has become another very popular slogan ingrained in our leadership development culture serving to guide the actions of all team members in the quest to establish meaningful relationships.  Connecting with teammates begins and ends with trust which in our belief is the most fundamental element in all impactful relationships regardless of the setting.  Although advanced technical skills and knowledge may earn recognition and admiration, they pale in comparison to the lasting impact made when sincere caring for the personal well-being of another is present in a relationship.  Great leadership does not exist without full trust from teammates and teammates will not trust without being convinced that the leader, regardless of the level of technical expertise, both relates to them and cares deeply for their personal experiences.  Without question, the success of the team depends heavily on the quality of relationships existing between members.  In his book “The Carpenter,” Jon Gordon states that for any team leader “caring is the ultimate success building strategy…Care about the work you do.  Surround yourself with people who care.  Show your team you care about them.  Build a team that cares about one another.  Together show your customers you care about them.”  Caring breeds trust and that trust can often times be cemented within a team through simple and sincere gestures performed consistently day to day.  Spending time to get to know a teammate on a personal level, listening more than talking in conversations, showing vulnerability (i.e. admitting to not knowing something), helping a teammate in a situation for reasons devoid of personal gain, and showing equal willingness to teach and learn from others are just some examples that we as a Sports Medicine and Performance Team recognize as highly effective methods to solidifying close bonds within our team.  In addition, we collectively strive to expand our network of like-minded professionals outside of our setting who may assist us in the constant quest to find young colleagues with leadership potential to add to our culture.  Undoubtedly, we believe that a team’s true power can be identified by the strength of the working relationships within its framework.

Summary

The Arizona Diamondbacks Sports Medicine and Performance culture of leadership development remains a continually evolving work in progress and is far from perfect.  Considering that developing leadership is by no means an easy task, we are confident that the unique culture that we have currently established is functioning at a relatively high level and is pointed in the right direction to continue to allow the opportunity for team and individual leadership to flourish.  Having had many different contributors over the years to help shape its current form, our culture has become defined by an accepted set of core values serving to guide the thoughts and actions of all members on a daily basis.  The values of humility, integrity, work ethic, positive attitude, communication, continuing education and relationship building are the pillars to which our leadership code of conduct is comprised.  As we remain optimistic about the future growth of our culture, we constantly remind ourselves, above all, to embrace the process of making small improvements daily in the ownership and application of the core values described in this article.  This steady day-to-day progress in our strong belief will eventually lead toward maximizing the leadership potential of every member of our team.

Recommended Readings:

  1. The Carpenter (Jon Gordon)
  2. The Hard Hat (Jon Gordon)
  3. The Energy Bus (Jon Gordon)
  4. The Servant (James C. Hunter)
  5. The Imperfect Leader (Davis H. Taylor)
  6. Everyone Communicates, Few Connect (John C. Maxwell)
  7. The 21 Indispensible Qualities of a Leader (John C. Maxwell)
  8. Freedom Flight (Lanny Bassham)
  9. Burn Your Goals (Josh Medcalf & Jamie Gilbert)
  10. Leaders Open Doors (Bill Treasurer)

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