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Books offer a look at people skills as a business strategy

“Lead Me Out to the Ballgame – Stories and Strategies to Develop Major League Leadership” by Howard C. Fero and Rebecca L. Herman (Major League Press, $19.99).

Imagine that your team competes against 29 others for the winner-take-all prize. Imagine that the media dissects your management moves (both wins and losses) and individual team member performance at least 162 times each year. Imagine that your team’s 25 players (many of whom make more money that you) are a mix of A-, B- and C-level players – any of whom may perform below expectations at times during the year, and are subject to injury and replacement. If you can handle those types of pressure, you’re a major league baseball manager.

Drawing from interviews with managers and players, the authors hone in on what it takes to build and manage a team. Here are some quotes that managers in corporate positions should take to heart:

■ 1st base – Lead by example – Bob Melvin (Oakland Athletics) says “There’s going to be some difficult losses; some are more difficult than others. How you carry yourself the next day has a lot to do with how your team comes out and performs.” How you approach today affects many tomorrows.

■ 2nd base – Earn respect – “Bruce Chen (Kansas City Royals pitcher) says “A manager has to care about his players. He has to show character. He has to be honest, whatever it takes, and treat everyone like a man.” Even tough love needs a positive spin.

■ 3rd base – Know your people – Joe Maddon (Tampa Bay Rays) says “You manage it one player at a time… each guy I try to connect with individually; [each guy] I try to understand individually.” You have to get to know more about your team than just how they do their jobs. Everyone learns differently and has different motivational buttons.

■ Home plate – Communicate effectively – Scott Atchison (Cleveland Indians pitcher) says “If a manager is very open and receptive, it makes you play a little better. You know you can talk things out, figure out a better solution.” Managing isn’t about “my way or the highway” authority.

Key takeaway: Managing a team is as much about managing personalities as it is jobs and roles.

“People Tools for Business: 50 Strategies for Building Success, Creating Wealth and Finding Happiness” by Alan C. Fox (SelectBooks, $16.95).

Fox shows that the more you learn, the more you realize there’s still more to learn. He’s always adding tools to his toolkit. Here are some highlights:

■ “You are not in the business of making telephone calls or writing emails.” How much time do you spend each day on the phone and with email? How much of that time helps you “make things happen” with your job? When it comes to evaluating performance, results count; “busyness” doesn’t. Don’t get caught in the thick of thin things.

■ “Wait three days.” There’s an emotional impulse to react quickly to surprises – especially those with bad news. Invariably, a shoot-from-the-lip response results in shooting yourself in the foot. You can’t find solutions unless you think things through.

■ “Give it away.” Forget micromanagement. Delegate. Let people do what you hired them to do. Leverage their skills. The more they do, the more they learn — and the more productive the department, division, etc. becomes. When mistakes are made, remember that you make mistakes, too.

■ “Ready, Set, Improvise.” Things rarely go as planned — especially in conversations and negotiations. You don’t know how the other party will react. Improv comedy teaches the art of saying “Yes, and” to build the scene. The “Yes” shows agreement; the “and” addresses their concern.

In a nutshell: “You are the sole proprietor of your life.” The more tools you can use to build it, the greater your chances of success at home and work.

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated reviewer of business books.

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