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Four Ways To Be Great And Celebrate: Lessons From Chicago Cub David Bote

The other night I saw something incredible. The Chicago Cubs were playing the Washington Nationals and it was the bottom of the 9th, two outs, three men on, with the go-ahead run at bat. The Nationals were up 3-0, and I was about to turn off the game because the Cubs put in David Bote, a 25-year-old rookie who was only playing his 34th professional baseball game, as a pinch hitter.

To my amazement, on a 2-2 count, Bote connected with the ball, sending it sailing towards the center field wall. He knew it was a home run. Unfortunately, in his excitement, Bote committed an unforgivable sin.

He flipped the bat. If you’re not a baseball fan, that means that he didn’t just drop the bat after hitting the ball, he did so with a little pizazz.

Bote broke one of those silly, unwritten rules that seem to plague baseball. To baseball purists, it is disrespectful to flip the bat out of your hand when you hit a home run. Watching the replay and listening to his side of the story, I don’t think Bote meant to be disrespectful. He was just so excited. As he ran around the bases, his arms outstretched in victory, I’m sure it never occurred to him that in less than 12 hours he would be apologizing for his celebration.

A rookie hitting a grand slam to win the game in the 9th inning, with two outs, deserves more than the quiet, staid celebration expected by the purists of the game. It’s a moment kids fantasize about when they’re pretending to be pro ball players in their backyard. It deserves a big celebration because celebrations matter to the morale and culture of a team.

The best teams celebrate their victories.

Jim Calhoun, the former Head Coach for the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team, looked for daily player victories, regardless of their size. That could mean a great play in practice, a player passing an exam, or a weight room personal best. He used small victories to motivate his players and reinforce the team’s values and culture. He celebrated and the culture thrived for it.

Celebrating works the same for your business. In my company, we commit time every other Friday to sharing our success stories. Everybody contributes, whether it’s sharing an important event in your personal life or a major win in our business. Sometimes there are sweet first-day-of-school pictures mixed with a story about how we secured our latest client. We celebrate all success because celebration’s a really good thing.

This idea of celebrating the important moments can help large companies as well. When software giant Symantec acquired Veritas Software, it rapidly expanded Symantec’s staff by 7,500 and created culture problems. To correct this, the leadership team at Symantec created an employee recognition program called Applause, which placed the power of recognition at the ground level. Employees congratulated and celebrated the accomplishments of their colleagues who did outstanding work or provided innovative ideas. Employees loved it! They promoted one another in droves, and production increased as employees strived for recognition themselves. By centralizing employee recognition, Symantec reached more employees and strengthened its corporate culture.

Creating a culture of celebration and praise is so important to creating a Great Team. Here are four tips to help your team begin to value celebration:

  1. Create and celebrate mini-goals – Team leadership can approach a large-scale goal by breaking it down into more manageable pieces. As the team completes these smaller goals and celebrates progress, accomplishment will set into the workflow and culture.
  2. Say it out loud – When you verbally celebrate an accomplishment or favorable behavior, you’re sending a message to other employees, challenging them to emulate the same behaviors. Verbal praise subtly reinforces culture.
  3. Personalize the praise – Great Team leaders observe their team, looking for strong examples of character, and celebrate them in a personal way. Leaders should practice creating their own affirmations when addressing employees so that when the opportunity comes, they can adequately praise character in a meaningful way.
  4. Beware of complacency – Complacency is perhaps the most common pitfall. A hard-fought victory or successful season can make even the most dedicated organizations drop their guard, over-celebrate or fail to plan for the next season. Over-celebration can easily consume the mood of an entire organization, stifle improvement efforts, rot work ethic and create laziness. Victory makes the pain and sacrifice of a championship easy to forget; however, Great Teams reject the sense of entitlement that comes after an epic win or championship. To win continuously, a team has to challenge the false belief that what’s been accomplished will naturally happen again.

We need to celebrate achievement and victory, not force a kid that just hit a grand slam home run to apologize for his behavior because it upset some baseball purists.

We need to encourage Bote to run around the bases with arms outstretched after hitting a grand slam.

We need to overlook the bat flip. He doesn’t need to apologize. In your business, if you close a big deal or secure some really awesome opportunity, I’m all for you running up and down the stairs and celebrating. If it was my company, I’d be right there with you.

Celebrate the Great moments, savor the victories. Then get ready to do it again and again.

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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