Strategies to Develop Major League Leadership

Baseball on the Pitchers Mound Close Up with room for copy

 

You can learn about leadership from a variety of places.  Researchers Howard Fero and Rebecca Herman decided to study leadership principles in Major League Baseball.  Touring numerous MLB clubhouses and interviewing managers from Tampa’s Joe Maddon to Los Angeles’ Don Mattingly, they developed what they call the 10 bases of leadership.

 

“Hope is energizing, engaging, contagious, and increases our spirit and ability to be resilient.” -Fero and Herman

 

Their new book is called Lead Me Out to the Ballgame: Stories and Strategies to Develop Major League Leadership.  It explores the insights learned from the game of baseball and how they apply to leaders in every situation.

I had an opportunity to ask the authors a few questions about their conclusions.

 

“If you want to be a leader, the first person you have to lead is yourself.” -Mike Scioscia

 

Tell me more about your research.  What were your goals?  Where did your research take you?

The idea came to us about 2.5 years ago when we were in a session at a management conference.  As leadership professors and consultants we know how important it is for people in all walks of life to develop their leadership skills and also know that quite often, they just don’t know how to do it.  As we sat at the conference we had the idea to marry together our love of leadership with our other love, baseball.

Lead Me Out To The BallgameThe goals for our project were pretty ambitious.  Without having any idea of how to go about achieving our goal, we decided we wanted to gain access to the players and managers from the 30 teams in Major League Baseball and find out from them how managers lead their teams, inspire trust, manage diverse populations, and deal with success as well as defeat.  Our objective was to take the stories we heard and use them to develop strategies so that people outside of the game could develop their own leadership skills.  We are proud to say that the ten Bases of Major League Leadership that are included in Lead Me Out to the Ballgame come from the interviews we held with 17 Major League Baseball managers and over 100 MLB players and executives.

Our research took us into the inner sanctum of Major League Baseball as we met with managers in their offices and in their dugouts during batting practice, and even on the third base line as they watched their players warm up.  We also met with players in the clubhouses and learned from them some of the unique ways that their managers helped them to achieve success and overcome obstacles.

 

Your book shares 10 bases of leadership and is broken into 3 major sections:  Leading Ourselves, Leading Others and Leading the Game.  Let’s touch on one of the bases in each section.

10basesofleadership

Leading Yourself.  Base number one is finding your passion.  What advice do you have for someone looking for what really makes them tick, what really drives them?

We heard some great stories from managers and players about the importance of not only finding your passion but showing it to those around you.  Ryan Doumit, a catcher, now with the Atlanta Braves, summed up many of the sentiments we heard when he said, “When the leader, the guy at the helm, believes and is passionate, it’s tough not to feel that same energy.”  This is such a great point as it’s not enough for a person to be passionate about what he or she does. To be a leader this passion needs to be seen by others.  In order for an impact to be made on a team, passion needs to be visible so that others will become excited about a goal as well.

Finding one’s passion is something we all need to do; we need to determine what it is we like to do.  Do we like speaking with people and solving problems?  Do we like crunching numbers and seeing the results emerge in front of our eyes?  Do we like teaching others and seeing the light bulb go off when an idea resonates with them?  To each of us there are different things which excite us, and it’s an individual’s task to identify them and determine what careers are a good fit for the things which excite us.

 

“What I’m most proud of is the culture change, the belief in how it should be done, and then going out there and doing everything they can to make it work and make it happen.” -Ron Washington

 

Leading Others.  Base number seven is effective communication.  What tips do you have to help leaders communicate vision and inspire others? 

John Smoltz on the Benefits of Failure

On June 8th, the Atlanta Braves are retiring the jersey of John Smoltz, and naturally when I think John Smoltz, I think about success:

  • 21 year major league career
  • One of the most beloved men in Atlanta Braves history
  • 1995 World Series Champion
  • Numerous awards from the Cy Young to the Roberto Clemente

When you talk with John Smoltz, however, it isn’t success he talks about.  It’s failure.

He sees failure as: 

A Small Town’s Shot at Forever

In One Shot at Forever, Sports Illustrated writer Chris Ballard tells the improbable story of a small-town high school baseball team from rural Illinois that defied convention, inspired by its coach, Lynn Sweet, an English teacher with no coaching experience.

What brought this story to your attention in the first place? When did you decide to write the book?

Basically, I got lucky. Two and a half years ago I received an email from a Sports Illustrated reader named Chris Collins. He told me the story of a small town high school baseball team and its unusual coach. He mentioned a Cinderella run, and kids wearing peace signs on their hats, and players who went on to be drafted into the majors. I was intrigued enough to talk to Chris on the phone and, when that went well, fly out to meet the coach, Lynn Sweet. All it took was an afternoon with Sweet for me to fall in love with the story. Here was a man—complicated, charismatic, controversial, kind, good-hearted—that I knew readers could root for. Then there was the tale itself, redolent of Hoosiers and full of natural drama.

The resulting SI story was titled “The Magical Season of the Macon Ironmen” and it ran in June of 2010. We were blown away by the response. Something about that team, and Sweet, really struck a nerve. For weeks, the letters poured in—more than I can remember for any feature story at SI in a long time. People nominated Sweet for “Sportsman of the Year,” and wrote of re-reading the story on tear-stained pages. Many wanted to share their own stories of coaches and small towns and long-forgotten teams. Within weeks, a half a dozen film producers had called. It was overwhelming.

It was about two months later that I decided to write the book. It just felt like there was so much more to the story than I was able to get into the 10,000-word magazine story: themes of loss and hope and coming of age. Plus, I genuinely liked the people I was writing about, which is crucial with a book like this that is so tied to the main characters.

Coach Sweet somewhat unexpectedly arrives in Macon, Illinois. He sweeps into town and is a completely different type of person. What was he like and how did the town react?

Sweet was the son of an Army Sergeant who had, in his words, “broke the other way.” He’s this 22-year-old liberal-minded English teacher who’s exploring life and embracing the changing times. Macon, on the other hand, is a town of 1,200 in the middle of Illinois that remains stuck in the Eisenhower era. Short hair, unquestioned patriotism, conservative values. The clash was almost immediate. In particular, the principal and school board had no idea what to make of Sweet, who arrived in town in a red Mustang. He frequented the local bars, threw out the entire English curriculum, refused to engage in corporal punishment and grew out his hair to complement a killer Fu Manchu mustache. If it weren’t for the fact that the students loved him – and for baseball – he would have been fired within a matter of years. 

How Mets Pitcher R.A. Dickey Overcame Obstacles On & Off the Field

“You may hit me.   You may knock me around and knock balls out of the park.  But I am always going to get back up and keep coming at you.”  — R.A. Dickey

How many of us have this type of attitude no matter what trials we are facing?

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to talk and have lunch with Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey.  It was our first meeting, but I had already met him in the pages of his new book, Wherever I Wind Up.  His story is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.  When I finished the book, I flipped back to the beginning and re-read the words in the quote above.  R.A. captured the essence of his life in those sentences and his ability to persevere through almost anything.