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Business Lessons Learned on the Baseball Field

Business Lessons Learned on the Baseball Field written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

Marketing Podcast with Joel Goldberg
Podcast Transcript

Joel Goldberg headshot Kansas CityOn this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I visit with keynote speaker, leadership expert, and long-time Kansas City broadcaster Joel Goldberg.

Goldberg has been a professional broadcaster for 25 years, and has been on the broadcast team with the Kansas City Royals since 2008. But he’s recently been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and has expanded into the world of public speaking, where he shares what he’s learned about leadership and relationship-building throughout his decades in the world of sports.

Of course, sports and business metaphors are nothing new, but Goldberg has a unique point of view about what small business owners can learn about culture, based specifically on how he’s watched the Royals build a small but mighty organization.

Questions I ask Joel Goldberg:

  • What’s the life of a baseball announcer like?
  • How does managing the wins and losses on a sports team parallel the ups and downs of running a business?
  • When you talk with business leaders, what are the elements you emphasize as part of building a championship culture?

What you’ll learn if you give a listen:

  • How a focus on culture can become a competitive advantage for small businesses.
  • What the single most important area of focus is in building a winning culture.
  • An example of why there’s not one set of traits that add up to make a great leader.

Key takeaways from the episode and more about Joel Goldberg:

Like this show? Click on over and give us a review on iTunes, please!

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Transcript of Business Lessons Learned on the Baseball Field

Transcript of Business Lessons Learned on the Baseball Field written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

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John Jantsch: This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Zephyr CMS. It’s a modern cloud based CMS system that’s licensed only to agencies. You can find them at, more about this later in the show.

John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Joel Goldberg. He is a speaker, MC and a television announcer with 25 years or so under his belt, the last 12 with the Kansas City Royals. So we’re going to talk today about lessons learned in sports that translate to business. So Joel, thanks for joining me.

Joel Goldberg: Thanks for having me John.

John Jantsch: I have to tell you, first off, a lot of my listeners know that I’m in Kansas City and that I’m a Kansas City Royals fan that I got a solid single off of Monte at fantasy camp. And every time I see you guys back up there in left field, I let him know it.

Joel Goldberg: Well come by again next year and we’ll really let him know it because the good news is he’s pretty humble. The reality of it is if he threw you a legitimate slider, you wouldn’t have had a chance, I wouldn’t have a chance.

John Jantsch: I think that thing he threw to me might’ve reached 65 miles an hour. I mean, it had some heat behind it.

Joel Goldberg: Yes, some [inaudible 00:01:28]. Isn’t it quite the reminder of how, even when we think we have talent along those lines that we’re not close, never have been?

John Jantsch: Nope. But to your point, he is a fine human being as well.

Joel Goldberg: The best. I’ll tell you, I mean, he’s been my broadcast partner for better part of 10 years and I still haven’t had a bad day with him. And that’s really hard to say. Most people can’t say that about their spouse, their relatives, anybody. But that’s just life. I’ve never had a moment where I’m like, “Oh, well this guy,” and I travel with him and hang out with them and the whole works. I mean, that’s a former three time all star, all time stage leader for the organization and you’d never know it.

John Jantsch: No, that’s absolutely right. It looks like he could still go out there and throw it a little bit too. He keeps himself in great shape, doesn’t he?

Joel Goldberg: Yeah, better than his partner. But it is amazing, when the team struggles and they go through their cycles like everybody else and bullpen struggling, inevitably there will always be someone, fan that walks by and says, “You ready to go?” And he’s 57 years old now and I think that the response usually is, “I’m done.” Every now and then there’s a, “Maybe I can help a little bit.”

John Jantsch: So let’s talk. We’re obviously going to talk about some of the leadership and culture stuff that you’re working on these days. But maybe give people a little bit of insight into, I’m sure a lot of people think, “Oh, baseball announcer. What a glamorous life and glamorous world,” and in many ways it probably is a dream job, but it’s probably a grind at times too. I mean, I know the baseball players talk about the months and months and months of travel and season and you’ve kind of experience that as well, don’t you?

Joel Goldberg: I experience every bit of it minus the physical part that they experience. But I’m pretty sure that we experience the same mental grind. I think it’s a grind because there’s just no let up. When I moved to Kansas City in 2008 I’d come from a job where I was a year round salaried employee in television. And now essentially I’m a freelance reporter, TV host, working a full year’s worth of work in six months. On a good month you have three or four days off. But there are stretches, and thankfully for the baseball union, for the players, they can’t play 30 straight days. But I think it’s 20 something they’re allowed. So there’s stretches where you might work 20 straight days, get a day off and then go another 15 in a row.

Joel Goldberg: For me, what I learned, it helps when you’re doing what you love and they’re paying me to talk about baseball and travel on charter flights and all that stuff and nice hotels. But you’ve got to pace yourself because if you don’t, that’s what I learned early, take deep breaths and take time for yourself and then your family when you have that is that you’re going to to get to June and be ready for the season to end. And there’s no break. Outside of a four day All Star break in July, there is no relief in sight.

Joel Goldberg: That’s the grind. But again, I don’t say that, ask them for people to feel sorry for me because I’m living my dream and my passion. I think that one that people would empathize the most with is that it can be very challenging and tough being away from family and kids and missing events and all that type of stuff.

John Jantsch: You spend a lot of time on the road. There have been many people that, I mean obviously the analogies of sports to businesses, they’re so rich. But in a lot of ways sports teams like a little mini business. I mean it’s not even mini. I mean it is a sort of odd shaped business, isn’t it?

Joel Goldberg: 100% and I’ll take it a step further, John. I mean, there’s plenty of business in every sports franchise at every level from the corporate sales and the suites or the tickets to the marketing and on and on. I mean, that in itself is the big business.

Joel Goldberg: But if you just look at a major league baseball club house or any locker room in professional sports, to me it is very much a microcosm of any business because you have different personalities, you have diversity, you have different roles. I mean not every team is going to have 25 superstars. Not every team is going to have everybody being the top salesperson and to make it work and to make it mesh in the amount of leadership and determination and skill and passion and all of it, to me, what I’ve learned in my last three years as a speaker, it’s very similar. It is very similar. It just happens to be in a world where there’s a lot of spotlight on them.

John Jantsch: And I think probably a different element, is a lot of businesses can think in terms of wins and losses, but probably not in the dramatic fashion every day that a sports team might experience. How would you say that that element of managing the wins and losses and the emotional roller coaster, the sort of ultimate, did we make it to the World Series? I mean how does that parallel a traditional business in your opinion?

Joel Goldberg: It’s all process based. On the end you’re going to be measured by your wins and losses, your final sales numbers, your goals. But what does it take to get there and all the things behind the scenes and progress that oftentimes doesn’t show up in the numbers that may show up two years down the road, three years down the road.

Joel Goldberg: I think what I love most about baseball, and I love all the sports, I’ve always been a guy and I covered a lot of other sports over the years, still a little bit of hockey, but it is whatever sport I’m in is my favorite. I just liked them all growing up. So baseball is my favorite because I’ve been nonstop in that for 12 years. But baseball is different than the other sport. And I’m not saying that they work any harder. That’s not it. But when you have a bad day in baseball, you go for four, you strike out four times, you give up three home runs as a pitcher or whatever it might be, you got to come back and do it again tomorrow and the next day and the next day.

Joel Goldberg: In football, for better or worse, you’re going to sit on it for a week. You’re going to work and build up to that. But this whole baseball thing is very much representative to me of the real world because it doesn’t stop. And you have a bad day at the office, a bad day at home, you still have to answer the call the next day. If you’re lucky, you get a weekend off. And so that to me is, if you think about in the course of a baseball season, ultimately you’re measured by did you win the championship or not? Then 29 teams out of 30 in baseball are going to be failures that those odds aren’t very good.

Joel Goldberg: The Kansas City Royals finally won a world championship. Hey, they got more world championships in the Yankees in the last 10 years. That doesn’t mean that they’ve been a better team, but how do you measure success beyond just winning that championship? Are you growing? Are you getting better? I think to me that’s very much like most companies that know that they’re not going to suddenly be what they want tomorrow. It is a very long process.

John Jantsch: There’s a lot of talking I think when the Royals won in 2015. There was a lot of talk about how the culture of the organization maybe carried them to a place where purely the talent couldn’t. But then there’s also a lot of naysayers to that idea. I think the same is true in business. There are a lot of folks that are very bottom line, here are the numbers and there’s a lot of people that know this is a place where people want to work.

John Jantsch: I know you talk about culture a lot and so I guess I could ask this sort of a multi part question. What role do you think culture plays in a sports team? What role did you think it played in the excellence that the Royals were able to achieve in the mid 2000s?

Joel Goldberg: Well, I think in terms of the Royals and certainly smaller market teams, it’s huge, if they want it to be huge. I know that the group here that built this team, they just changed ownership, you know that, but they still have the same general manager in place and there’s an incredible consistency to that of having a general manager that has been here since 2006. That’s pretty hard to do in sports. [crosstalk 00:09:31].

John Jantsch: Well not just one who’s been here a long time. I mean, one who puts vocally puts culture out there ahead of a lot of those.

Joel Goldberg: I’ll give you a few examples, John. The first time I ever met Dave Moore was 2007. I was in visiting. I was working in St. Louis that year and so I was in visiting with the Cardinals, which doesn’t make people happy in Kansas City. A big rivalry there. I walked in, I introduced myself to Dave Moore. I knew he was the new GM and I said, “What are you trying to build here?” And he said, “I’m trying to build a championship culture.” I said, “Well what do you mean by that?” He said, “I’m not talking about the 25 players in the locker room. I’m talking about the ticket takers and the vendors and the scouts and people outside of the building and the fans and not just fans in Kansas City, but the region.”

Joel Goldberg: One of the things I always like to say is that that showed up in the form of a big picture of 800,000 people gathered around for a parade. That was everyone included in that. But to me, what Dave Moore has told me is that that culture is a focus of theirs every single day. How you treat people, how you roll off the red carpet when a new player, even if he’s not a star, comes in. He says to me all the time, “You’re part of the culture. People see your face and hear your voice, and so you’re involved in it too. People are more likely to stop me in the street in Kansas City then the 24th guy on the roster because maybe that guy hasn’t been here very long and I have.” It all feeds together.

Joel Goldberg: If you’re the, I don’t know, if you’re the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, any of those deep pocket, think about in terms of companies, and I don’t know if it’s fair to call the Yankees Amazon, but they can afford to get it wrong at times. I think that in a smaller market it becomes a competitive advantage to be able to focus on people and to be able to focus on culture. That’s what I’ve seen.

Joel Goldberg: It doesn’t mean that just good guys finish last or good guys finish first, in this case. You have to have talent, but if you can’t compete for the top, top, top talent or, and let’s be honest, these owners all have plenty of money. The Royals were just sold for $1 billion. They could go out there and afford any player. The difference from them and the Yankees, like the Yankees just signed Gerrit Cole a $324 million deal, which is insane. If it doesn’t work, they’ve got a higher credit card limit than everyone else. It might cost them some luxury tax dollars, but they’ll go out there and find someone else.

Joel Goldberg: The Royals are [inaudible] make and fill in the blank, the Royals, the Twins, the Brewers, the Cardinals, Pirates, the smaller market teams, if they go out there and attempt to buy a player like that and it doesn’t work, they got nothing left. So they have to be able to win with character developing talent, which is cheaper to do that, and find those competitive advantages.

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John Jantsch: What are the elements then when you go out and talk to business leaders as you do today? What are some of the elements then that you emphasize as parts of building a championship culture?

Joel Goldberg: Well, first and foremost, the number one word or topic along with culture that I talk about is building trust and trust really on multiple levels. Building trust within an organization. And again, I mean I got back to talking about diversity. You go into a baseball clubhouse and guarantee that you’ll have American players, guaranteed you’ll have Dominican players, there’s a good chance you’ll have some Venezuelans, maybe some Cubans, Puerto Rican, Mexican, maybe Japanese, Korean. You’ve got to find a way to make that work. To me, when you could build that trust within each other, and that doesn’t start by the way in the major league clubhouse. So the Royals have lost over a hundred games each of the last two years and people say, “Oh they’re back to where they were before.” And my argument is that in terms of wins and losses, yes, but all of these young players that are coming up through their system were able to watch the way when the guys won here, the way things were done. They saw from afar, they saw it in spring training.

Joel Goldberg: I always say that what a team has a culture, you could put their franchise name and the word way after it, the Cardinal way, the Yankee way. There was no Royal’s way when I got here in 2008. There is now a Royal’s way of doing things. The [inaudible] ball players, the fundamentals, they work on the attention to detail and the way they go about that. And that’s all been passed on. So when kids are getting up here and now at 22-25 years old, this is how we do it. And so they still have that culture.

Joel Goldberg: You build that trust within the organization. I’ll give you this example. They just hired a new manager, Mike Matheney. He had spent the last year in the organization working throughout the minor leagues. He’s already built relationships and trust with all of these prospects. When they get here, there will be an understanding.

Joel Goldberg: To take that a step further, I was told that the day that he got hired as the manager, long day, press conference, all the meet and greets and everything, by the time his head had hit the pillow he had reached out by phone and was able to contact by phone 39 of the 40 players on their roster that are on their 40 man, major league accessible roster, and he spent the last, I think, month just traveling around the country connecting with guys over coffee or lunch, so that on day one there already is trust.

Joel Goldberg: To me, it all starts with trust with each other and that’s what I do every day, John. I mean, the end result is the interview and the product that we see on TV. I’m spending every day trying to earn these guys’ trust to be able to get a better interview, to be able to get access. So that’s what I’m doing in building these relationships. I mean, I don’t care what business you’re in, sports included, it still comes down to people, every single day. It’s a huge part of the culture.

John Jantsch: Here’s the most important question. Does Gordon come back?

Joel Goldberg: I would be shocked if he didn’t. Alex Gordon really is the franchise player, not in terms of their best player anymore. There are lessons, by the way, with him too, phenomenal leader. He’s oftentimes the most quiet guy in the room. But he’s the only guy here that was here as a player when I got here and he made his debut in 2007. He’s kind of that sage guy in the club house now. He still is a good player. His contract is up. He doesn’t want to go anywhere else. He’s a Midwest guy, grew up three hours, three and a half hours away in Lincoln, Nebraska, raising his kids here. They’re in school now, married, all that beautiful family. It’s one of two choices. He’ll either retire and go coach his kids, he’s made plenty of money, or he’ll come back. I would be stunned if he wasn’t back. I really would.

John Jantsch: I hate to derail our conversation about leadership, but I just can’t help it.

Joel Goldberg: [crosstalk 00:16:49].

John Jantsch: What are the Royals have to do to make him feel like they want him to come back? I mean, I know he and Dayton have a good relationship. I know he wants to keep playing, if he thinks he can play at the level he’s supposed to. Are they obligated in some ways to make a gesture of a certain amount?

Joel Goldberg: Maybe. I mean, I think from a numbers standpoint, it’ll just be one of those things where, I’m guessing here, but it’ll be one of those things where they’re not going to want the most ridiculous discount ever that they disrespect him, and he’s not going to want the most ridiculous amount of money that he disrespects them. They understand that there’s a level of respect that they need to show him, and vice versa.

Joel Goldberg: I think more than anything, first off, I feel like his decision could already be made. And I don’t know that. I mean, I did talk to him recently, intentionally that didn’t come up. He’s not going to tell me. I tried to read the tea leaves. It gives me no equity to try to push on things that I’m not going to get an answer to. So you dig around a little bit and you talk to people that are close and all that.

Joel Goldberg: I think for me, other than the fact that there were so many conversations that I would have with him last year away from the field where he’d talk about, “We need to do this, we need to do that.” And I always thought the we part was interesting, almost, and that might just be semantics. But I just think that they need to show him that they’re on the right path. They’re not going to with a new owner suddenly just flip a switch and say, “We’re going to go buy everything and the heck with the process.” They’re not a cutting corners type of organization. I don’t think that’ll suddenly happen. I just feel like he’s going to need to be taken care of more respectful standpoint. They will. He’s got a phenomenal relationship with the organization and the GM. And then just have a feeling that they’re trying to advance this in the right direction and then once that happens, I think he fully understands his place in helping advance it.

John Jantsch: He almost becomes another coach on the field.

Joel Goldberg: He is. And beyond that too, just real quick, because it is important for culture too, and I speak about this a lot, is that the organization will take his work ethic, what he does in the weight room with his health, the way he’s eating, they won’t tell guys never eat a carb and sugar. Nobody’s going to do that except for Alex Gordon. But they’ll watch the way he goes about batting practice at the plate. But before he goes to the plate, the way he shags fly balls like it’s a live game situation, they’ll take video of that and they will show it to the young guys as young as 16-17 years old in the minor leagues and say, “This is the Royal way. This is the way we do things.” He has a major impact on all that.

John Jantsch: I selfishly hope he comes back so that we get to watch him for another year.

Joel Goldberg: Well, I do too. And my selfishness is more than yours because I feel like I’ve watched him grow up on a personal level. I’ve watched him raise his kids and marry his wife and all that and he’s just, he’s one of my favorite people in the world. And a lot of media stays away from him. They all get along with him. He’s just a little bit more introverted, a little bit more quiet. But when you get to know him, he’s funny, he’s thoughtful, he’s respectful and it’s one of the things that I really enjoy is the relationship that I’ve been able to build with him. I know that once he’s gone I won’t have that in terms of the baseball setting.

John Jantsch: His personality reminds me a lot of Salvie kind of doesn’t it?

Joel Goldberg: No.

John Jantsch: No? I meant that completely facetious.

Joel Goldberg: I know you did. I was with you on that one. But I will tell you this, I mean there is a really short message there. Two guys that can lead and do it with extroverted and a bit of a more of an introverted personality and they’re both really affected the way they do it.

John Jantsch: And I think from a culture standpoint, one of the things that a lot of organizations, you talked about the diversity in baseball. I think a lot of organizations lack that diversity to their detriment. I think that’s another great lesson from kind of the team concept of diversity. I think a lot of, I won’t say it’s forced in baseball, but it happens because of the nature of the game. And I think there’s a great lesson in that for organizations because those two styles of leadership we just talked about, everybody, the whole organization, benefits from the fact that those two styles are there.

Joel Goldberg: They’re more than those two styles too. It just, it’s finding people that have a passion for whether it’s the game or that profession that have a passion for whatever that why is. That’s the one thing that the Royals have done really well in recent years is that they go out there and find people that love to play the game. They’re good people and sometimes it’s easy to just go for the best talent out there and say, “You know what?” You get sucked into that talent and you start to ignore some of those other little things that again, a smaller organization can’t afford to ignore.

John Jantsch: So Joel, I know you have a podcast called Rounding The Bases. You hinted you’re working on a book, which will be a great, I think, for your career in the leadership field. Tell people where they can find out more about you.

Joel Goldberg: So certainly on all the social media spots, I think Twitter, it’s Goldberg KC, and then all the other ones it’s Joel Goldberg KC, some version of that on. I post a lot of content on LinkedIn and Instagram. Twitter is more of a baseball thing for me. Facebook, certainly Facebook business page or whatever they call that nowadays. I’ve got a website, I’m still learning every day. I’ve been doing this speaking thing for three years. It’s kind of become a a, not just a side hustle but my other main business and getting in front of all types that want to learn about culture through story driven [inaudible] storytelling messages and strategy. I’ve got the bug, I’ve got the entrepreneurial bug. I don’t know what took me so long to get there, but now it’s one of those things I think I told you before that I wake up every day learning something new and it’s awesome. It’s a lot of fun.

John Jantsch: I tell people, being an entrepreneur is the greatest self development program ever created.

Joel Goldberg: Well it is. I never knew that, but it’s made me a better person. It’s made me a better listener. It’s made me more curious. It’s made me understand that I don’t know anything. Everything that I do know, there’s so much more to know. But more than that, it’s made me a better television host and reporter because I go to the stadium now every day more curious about what’s going on. Where’s the leadership looking like, the culture? Why are they doing this? How does this come about? How are these guys meshing? What did you like about him? I totally agree with you on that. I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur before, I guess because I wasn’t. I was a TV guy. And now suddenly there’s something out there. You know what it is? Becoming an entrepreneur to me was taking off blinders and just seeing more of what’s out there, more of what’s in front of you and to the side and it never stops.

John Jantsch: It’s easy to get very much in your lane. Listen Joel, thanks for stopping by the Duct Tape Marketing podcast and hopefully we’ll give you a shout out when I’m out there at the fountains at the K.

Joel Goldberg: No, for sure do that. And I’m going to have you on my podcast soon. You can taunt Jeff Montgomery, but as I told the previous owner, David Glass, who used to blame both of us for all the losses. I said, “He’s a Royals Hall of Famer. Just blame me. Okay, I’ll take it.”

John Jantsch: Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Joel.

Joel Goldberg: All right, thanks John.