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3 Steps to Building a Culture of Care, Personally and Professionally

More than 1,000 players have spent time on the roster of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that doesn’t include the ones who played for the franchise from 1884-1958 before it moved from New York to California.

Many are household names, at least in households that include baseball fans – Hall of Famers like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Don Sutton from the Los Angeles era and Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, and “Wee” Willie Keller who starred in Brooklyn.

And then there’s Andrew Toles.

Never heard of Toles? You aren’t alone, even among many baseball fans.

Toles was an outfielder who made his Major League debut with the Dodgers in 2016 and hasn’t played a game since 2018. I consider myself a baseball fan, and I don’t remember him as a player. Earlier this year, however, former big-league manager Clint Hurdle shared an essay from The Daily Coach that talked about how leaders “have an obligation to not treat our old team members as ships that passed us in the night.”

Toles, you see, remains a Dodger even though the franchise knows he will never play again. In April, they re-signed Toles to a contract that pays him $0. The reason? So Toles can keep the coverage from the team’s health insurance.

Toles suffered a knee injury in 2017, but it was mental health issues that ultimately derailed his playing career. He has been diagnosed with bipolar and schizophrenia, and he now lives under the guardianship of his father.

George Raveling and Michael Lombardi, the co-authors of The Daily Coach, pointed out that the Dodgers are under no obligation to help Toles, but “they’ve gone out of their way to offer a helping hand and have exhibited generosity when many others likely wouldn’t have.”

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I am not a Dodgers fan, nor am I a fan of everything the Dodger organization does, but I was touched by the Toles story.  I also was challenged with how to personalize the lessons from it. Companies, after all, can’t offer a health-care safety net to every employee who leaves. But this isn’t a story about offering lifetime health insurance. It’s a story about an organization that has established a culture of caring for its employees and going above and beyond to do the right thing.

They had no obligation to do anything, and no one would have criticized them for not insuring Toles. They weren’t legally obligated, nor did they bend to outside pressures. That’s what makes this example of doing the right thing even more impactful to me. They saw a former employee who needed help and they helped, not because they were obligated but simply because they could.

How do you replicate that type of culture of care, in your personal leadership and in your organization?

I can think of at least three first steps to take.

1. Practice active listening

Heather Younger, who will be my guest on Off the Rak on June 29, is a huge proponent of active listening as a way of building trust, because it’s a means of truly understanding how people feel, what they need, and, as importantly, how to respond.

2. Create responsive structures

If people see a need in your organization and think of ways they could help, they should have ways to put their ideas into action. Work with your HR team to create structures that support employee-led assistance to people in need, especially when the needs involve other employees. These structures can and should include publicly recognizing employee-led efforts for the good they do.

3. Focus on serving not just winning

We all want to win. Being a winner is rewarding and satisfying. The Dodgers want to win, and they’ve won plenty. But when someone needed help, winning baseball games wasn’t their focus. Helping Toles was their focus. One of my favorite quotes on this topic comes from Harold Kushner, an author and rabbi, who said, “The purpose of life is not to win. The purpose of life is to grow and to share. When you come to look back on all that you have done in life, you will get more satisfaction from the pleasure you have brought into other people’s lives than you will from the times that you outdid and defeated them.”  

Leaders (and companies) should always do the right thing when they are obligated, but there also are times when we aren’t obligated to act in a particular way but we still should take action. As The Daily Coach said, “That’s empathy. That’s loyalty. That’s true leadership.” And if we lead with a self-imposed obligation to do the right thing, we can create a culture that lives it out.

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