Fable Friday: Tommy Lasorda, Stan Musial and the power of praise

Tommy Lasorda, the former L.A. Dodger manager and Hall of Famer, spoke about the power of praise.  I’m paraphrasing here as I don’t have the story in front of me, but it goes something like this. 

Let’s say you’re managing a game and you need to send up a pinch hitter.  The only guy left on the bench is your poorest hitter, say he hits .230, and the odds are not great that he’s going to come through.  But a miracle happens and he gets the key hit that wins the game, and when he comes back to the dugout, all the players rush up to greet him, pat him on the back, whack him on the butt, hug him and tell him how great he is.

“But,” said Lasorda, “a lot of managers forget that you needed to do that for Musial too.”  He was referring to the great Stan Musial, who played 22 seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Musial had a lifetime .331 batting average, hit 475 career home runs and is also a Hall of Famer.

Lasorda’s point is that you would expect that key hit from Musial, but more importantly, the act of giving praise is important to all players, regardless of talent and achievement.

As I was writing about “providing feedback” in the recent Gagne series, I recalled an incident I’ll share here that helped me learn as a facilitator.  I was conducting a series of sales workshops for a large organization, and going from region to region for the training.

In Michigan I huddled with the SVP and group leader and we talked about how he should both kick off the workshop by setting expectations and objectives, and then close up the workshop by praising the learners’ performance and using this “happy hour” feeling to create enthusiasm for the desired on-the-job activities.

“Here is what I have found to be an effective way to do this,” I told him.  “Get a yellow pad and make very specific notes about everyone in the room.  Then in your wrap-up I’d like you to address each person and state what it was you noticed them doing well in front of the whole group.  Don’t say ‘You did a great job.’  Instead, describe what you actually saw and heard.”

Well, that is exactly what he did.  He wrote beautiful notes on his observations, and as he went around the room speaking to each learner, their eyes were shining and you could hear a pin drop in the room, each learner waiting for the SVP to get to him. It was the best workshop closing I’ve ever seen.

So I went on to Indianapolis and had a similar meeting with the exec there, positioning his role a bit differently.  Instead of telling him what I wanted him to do, I simply told him the story of what the Michigan SVP did, as if he had done it on his own. And not wanting to be outdone, the Indy manager did an even better job in his debrief, praising every learner with detailed comments about their performance.  I could have cried! There was no doubt in my mind that these managers saw this different approach as more powerful and effective and they learned a valuable lesson in providing feedback.

Final tip:  Stop saying, “You did a good job!”  Instead, say “You did a good job and here’s why…”

And of course at all times…

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

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