“You’d be surprised that even amongst veterans in baseball they’re looking for leadership.” Bob Melvin, manager, Oakland A’s
“Strike 3 – you’re out!”
“Ball 4 – take your base!”
“Out of the park…homerun!”
It’s all pretty cut and dry in baseball. The umpire makes a call, and for better or worse, that’s the way it is (well, maybe a review here and there!). With leadership however, rules aren’t quite as clear cut…there isn’t always one right call to make, there isn’t always one strategy to employ, and there isn’t always only one person who makes the call. Leadership is a process which, to be utilized successfully, requires an understanding of some basic tenets, or, as we call them, the Bases of Leadership. To be a successful leader we need to understand ourselves, our strengths and our weaknesses, understand the people we are leading, their differences and dispositions, and understand the specific situation we are in. In order to be successful at leading we need to understand that we can’t lead the first game of the season with a team of rookies the same way we will lead the last game of the season with a team of veterans; and understand that no matter how good a leader we think we are, if we don’t pay attention to our surroundings, our trophies can slip away.
During baseball’s Spring Training in March of 2012 and 2013, and throughout the 2012 and 2013 Major League Baseball seasons, we, Drs. Howard Fero and Rebecca Herman, set out to identify the leadership techniques, attitudes, and behaviors that Major League Baseball (MLB) managers use to engage their team, build trust within their clubhouse, and create a team of champions. To do this we interviewed current and former MLB managers, current and former players, executives, and members of the media, and learned what they believe makes for a successful leader in a Major League clubhouse. Our interviews were conducted in Major League clubhouses as players prepared to take the field, in the manager’s offices, and even in the dugout during pregame warm-ups. The Lead Me Out to the Ballgame roster stands at over 100 interviews representing players and managers from nearly two thirds of the teams in Major League Baseball.
Major League Leadership©
Common questions asked by business leaders, professors, coaches, and fans that we have met along the way were: What really makes a leader great and what are the things they need to do? When beginning a new job, aiming for a promotion, or simply looking to improve ourselves we turn to leadership. This concept is one which is used quite extensively in all parts of our life, personally and professionally, but what does it truly mean? What does it take to be a leader, and can we all be leaders in our lives? The simple answer is, it takes work to be a leader, but we can all be one in our own lives. The manner to do this, however, takes a bit of work, but in our book we aim to make that work fun as we explore the ways to develop our leadership through stories and examples of how it is cultivated in major league clubhouses. Throughout this book we will introduce to you to and explore a model of leadership which we have coined Major League Leadership. Through stories and examples we will tell you about the ten Bases of Leadership which make up our model and will recount for you some of the stories we heard during our interviews about how managers throughout baseball demonstrate these bases and use them to inspire their teams to achieve what is expected of them, and often surpass those expectations. This book was written for both the baseball enthusiast who will enjoy hearing about our visits with some of the icons of baseball and also for those people who want some clear and specific strategies to cultivate their leadership skills and acumen. You don’t have to understand baseball to learn from the strategies of MLB managers!
As we analyzed the many interviews we conducted, one of the themes that emerged time and time again was that leading a team does not center solely on operational strategy, or as it is referred to in baseball, the “X’s and O’s”. As will be explored, strategy and expertise are not all the ingredients needed for a successful team. Sure, the “X’s and O’s” are important, and just like people outside of the Game, players need to know what they need to do each day and be aware of the team’s overall strategy and goals, but, as Arizona Diamondback pitcher Craig Breslow told us, “there are very few instances where you can point to managerial mistakes as crucial to the outcome of the game…more than that [the key to success] is keeping guys motivated, keeping guys competing.” This concept is quite popular in the leadership literature and in corporate training programs, motivation and empowerment of employees is what will lead an organization to success. Throughout Lead Me Out to the Ballgame we will explore this concept and discuss how this is done with million dollar players, as well as those who ‘ride the bench’ for most of the season, those players who spend more time watching than playing . When studying major league managers and major league players we see that these players are not very different from employees and managers outside of baseball. As much as baseball is a game, it is also a business which is filled with new hires (rookies), seasoned employees (veterans), and managers who need to do whatever it takes to make them successful. Just as in baseball, when the individuals are successful the team has a greater chance of achieving success, and the organization follows along.
“To me the biggest joy for a manager is seeing a player play up to his potential. I mean, not have a great year, they don’t have to have a great year, but play up to the potential that you know they have.” Davey Johnson, manager, Washington Nationals
Theory to Practice
The ten Bases of Leadership that we identified through our research are all complementary. Just as a center fielder can’t play the whole outfield by himself, a single base will not work alone to bring about a win. The manager, the coaches, and the team as a whole must work together, just as our winning strategies complement each other to bring about success on and off the field.
As you read through this book we encourage you to think about your own experiences at home, at work, on a baseball diamond, and elsewhere. Think about movies you’ve seen, books you’ve read, and places you’ve traveled. With each of our bases think about how often you’ve seen them used successfully and how often you’ve witnessed or been a part of them being used unsuccessfully. Our research was fun and exciting to conduct, and we hope that our passion for baseball and leadership comes through loud and clear and helps excite you about leading your teams as well. We hope you will take the time to contemplate your own leadership style, your strengths, the areas you feel you could also use a little coaching on, as well as spend the time working through these areas while you cultivate and develop your Major League Leadership. You will find that managing and leading a baseball team is not that different from leading a team of employees you may encounter in your own life. Use the stories, share the stories, and learn from the stories as we bring you into the clubhouses of Major League Baseball!
So, now that the pregame is over and the anthem has played, let’s get to it. It’s time for first pitch as we begin to discuss the keys to leading like a Major League Baseball manager and developing your Major League Leadership.