Adam LaRoche, The Chicago White Sox, And The Retail Leadership Parallel

Adam LaRoche, The Chicago White Sox, and Retail Leadership Parallels

I am not very knowledgeable about sports but I do follow baseball because it’s my sons’ favorite.   This morning I was reading an article on Adam LaRoche exiting a $13million contract because White Sox Executive Vice President Kenny Williams told him, after five years of allowing this, that his 14 year old son, Drake, was not allowed in the clubhouse, on the field, at the drills as much as has been permitted in the past.

“I just told him that he needed to dial it back, that’s all,” Williams said. “Look, I don’t want this to turn into something that makes Drake feel badly. He is such a good kid and so loved around here. But the kid is there every day. In the clubhouse. And on the field. During drills. Everywhere.

“Simply, you have to make a decision from the management perspective or an organization at large. We went into this season saying to ourselves, ‘We are going to commit and focus and not leave any stone unturned.’”

This story, in particular, resonated with me because [as I have mentioned] I am working a few consulting projects and in one of these projects, recently, I provided feedback to something that was stated under a “performance management” topic about when leaders present PA’s to their team they were being guided to:

  • Acknowledge the employee’s emotions
  • Stay calm and don’t back down from your position

Here was my feedback:

  • “Acknowledge the employee’s emotions”: I think it would benefit the learner to understand the word “empathy”. “Show Empathy” may be a better alternative – it’s a common leadership word and one of the non-negotiables employees have of their retail leader: (1) Ability to inspire, (2) Ability to motivate, (3) Empathy, and (4) Involvement. It would benefit them to start seeing this word now and understand how important it is in all areas of their guidance of employees;
  • “Stay calm and don’t back down from your position”: this is a really outdated and antiquated direction reminiscent of union vs. management mentality that my father spoke about from the 1970’s and into the 1980’s. I have never had to deliver a contentious performance appraisal – ever – in my career and I have delivered hundreds and hundreds of PA’s.
    • If the retail leader is providing on-going, in-the-moment, fair and balanced feedback there will be absolutely no surprises when it comes to the Performance Appraisal. That is why consistent recognition and feedback is critical to effective performance management;
    • Your performance feedback should always be framed within company policies and company values. The only way it will become emotional and the leader would have to “stay calm” is if the information being presented is not objective and there personal opinion behind the feedback or if we spring negative feedback on them that we haven’t addressed previously.

So – when I read the LaRoche/Sox story I immediately thought about how likely it was that the White Sox organization was using ‘hope’ as a strategy and that the situation would fix itself over time and because they were nervous or unsure of how to address it – it either remained the same or became worse [and LaRoche, incidentally, had his worst season last year] – and as they are beginning a new season they finally bit the bullet and addressed it. What this resulted in was the employee [LaRoche] becoming highly offended and angry at this personal attack on his son and himself and the team lost a dedicated, long-term player.

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Let this baseball drama be a lesson to all current and emerging retail leaders – there is absolutely nothing to be gained by not addressing performance issues or policy violations. Hope is not a strategy. Hope shrinks and expands in direct proportion to your courage – and unless you have committed yourself to building your professional brand and style around consistent, on-going, in-the-moment, fair and balanced feedback – these are the moments that can make or break your relationship with your team.

Impact If You Don’t Provide Consistent Feedback

Impact on the team members:

  • They won’t know there is a problem
  • They won’t know the impact it is having on those around them
  • They will therefore make no effort to address the problem
  • They won’t have any idea what they have to do to improve
  • They are likely to feel that these standards are acceptable

Impact on the team Leader – they are likely to be seen as;

  • being weak or scared
  • being a poor team leader
  • not treating people fairly or consistently
  • losing the respect of their team, peers and colleague
  • not having sufficient control over staff performance
  • not having potential for future development because they don’t tackle people issues effectively
  • incapable or under-qualified in their role

Impact on the team:

  • increasing demotivation – especially the longer it’s left un-addressed
  • a loss of commitment to the team itself and to achieving their objectives
  • an increase in gossiping
  • loss of respect for the team leader
  • increased tension within the team
  • increased staff turnover within the team
  • a reduction in standards
  • reduction in performance overall
  • Others trying the same thing (What’s good for one is good for another…..)

Impact on the company:

  • Poorer standards
  • Increase in absenteeism
  • Morale could be adversely affected
  • Potentially higher staff turnover – leading to increased recruitment costs

Impact When You Do Provide Consistent Feedback

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Impact On The Team Members:

  • They know where they stand at all times
  • They recognize and can leverage their strengths
  • They can improve their opportunity areas
  • They feel developed and that they have a future career path because their leader is creating career capital
  • They use resources available to make smart decisions
  • There is open communication through trust and respect

Impact on the team Leader – they are likely to be seen as;

  • Effective
  • Strategic
  • Trustworthy
  • Honest
  • Transparent
  • Objective/Fair
  • Concerned
  • Involved
  • Business Partners/Mentors

Impact on the team:

  • Respectful culture is built around career development
  • Strengths are leveraged to build a collaborative culture
  • Consistent business practices are encouraged
  • Understanding of policies and procedures of business practices
  • Elevated morale and team work
  • Diverse and Inclusive company culture

Impact on the company:

  • Consistent business practices
  • Strong values
  • Fair & Balanced brand reputation
  • Loyalty to the business and to the team

This unfortunate incident is a great lesson to retail leaders to be proactive and address challenges as they arise – it builds your personal leadership brand, and it supports career capital and development for the employees, finally -it supports organizational improvement and growth, consistently.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail and 18 year retailer. I am a passionate and creative leader and coach committed to inspiring thought, action, truth-telling, solution-seeking, and dialog about how to maximize talent through identifying and creating a process around critical success factors, workplace culture, signature leadership practices, productivity, profitability, alignment of employees and company vision & values, and workplace happiness inside all retail organizations. I help create healthy, vibrant, high-performing, and highly-productive organizations that are talent magnets and focused on delivering the highest level of customer experience that will differentiate them from competition and result in long-term growth and sustainability.

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