Ken Williams: Team Concepts

The general manager of the world champion Chicago White Sox talks about the dynamics of building a winner.

May 1, 2006

Many real estate professionals take a cue from the sports world: They form sales teams and hire coaches to help them improve their personal performance. Any advice for those considering such a move?

WILLIAMS: Hire people you trust, people you know will tell you the truth and not just what they think you want to hear. With the White Sox, we’re lucky that many of us have known each other for a very long time. We’re often brutally honest with one another.

How do you define leadership?

WILLIAMS: Leadership is understanding your responsibilities and then having the courage to make tough decisions on behalf of the organization. If everyone understands this is your role, then you’ll be seen as a leader. Often, my challenge has been to keep in mind the best interests of the organization, not just this year but perhaps three years down the road. This can mean making very unpopular decisions, but you have to trust yourself and your knowledge of your team.

Not every leader comes from the executive ranks. Who are the players that gravitate to leadership roles?

WILLIAMS: Several years ago we began searching for players we characterized as “grinders,” guys who approached the game of baseball with a work ethic, who showed up every day without a lot of fanfare and just got the job done. Within a baseball clubhouse, those types of guys become leaders you can build around. Fortunately, in our case, they became the types of guys we could build a World Series championship team around.

What does it take to build a winning team?

WILLIAMS: We won because we came together as a team. At some point in a game or the season, every one of our players sacrificed himself or his stats for the betterment of the team. We also benefited from guys stepping up at crucial moments to deliver in the clutch. Paul Konerko and Scott Podsednik hit key home runs during the World Series. Mark Buehrle, an All-Star starting pitcher, relieved in Game 3 of the World Series. Jermaine Dye, the World Series MVP, came through with the game-winning hit in our 1-0 Game 4 victory to sweep the Series. All of these guys, and others, rose to the occasion time and time again.

When there’s a conflict between team members, how do you handle it?

WILLIAMS: We talk it out, sometimes late into the night, sometimes loudly. But if there’s a high level of trust, which we have, then everyone knows the disagreements are about what’s best for the organization. Individual egos and agendas aren’t part of the debate.

How important is team chemistry?

WILLIAMS: Certainly it’s important. But chemistry is something that comes together over time. It develops with a core group of players who have been with your team for a while. Then it builds over the course of the season as you spend time together at the ballpark and away from the field, as you share laughs together, as you overcome challenges together, and as you face the opposition together. It’s a dynamic, changing force.

In your experience, what motivates people the most?

WILLIAMS: We have the benefit of evaluating our performance in two places—the scoreboard and the standings. Our wins and losses are published, discussed, and dissected each and every day. One of our strengths as an organization is how much we care about winning and how much we hate losing. We’re passionate about doing what it takes to win; defeats gnaw at us. Nothing beats winning a World Series championship, except perhaps, doing it again.

For more on Williams and the Chicago White Sox, visit

Chuck Paustian is a former REALTOR® Magazine senior editor.