Published on: October 5, 2010by Michael Sansolo
What is the best measure of success and what is the best way to measure the impact of a successful leader? Far smarter people than I have long argued that managers are evaluated incorrectly.
Whereas most are rated on cold statistics - profits, sales, turnover, etc. - those measures can miss the big picture. There are many times that a retailer, for instance, may find their best manager in their worst performing store because he or she is the person pulling off the impossible, keeping things working in spite of awful conditions. Sometimes statistics tell only part of the story and the trick is to look even deeper and more knowledgeably.
There is a near perfect example of this argument this year from the world of baseball, where statistics are straight-forward and nearly everything can be measured and misinterpreted. Whether you like or detest sports, this is an example of managing that should command your attention because a cursory look at basic numbers will completely distort the picture…and obliterate the lesson.
As Kevin wrote yesterday, the baseball playoffs are set and include many regular participants like the Yankees, Braves, Twins and Phillies. This story, however, is about one of the four worst teams in baseball, the Baltimore Orioles.
The Orioles have not been good for years. Long a model franchise on the field and financially, the Orioles have endured 13 consecutive losing seasons and the team’s bottom line performance has slumped. Ever since the retirement of Cal Ripken Jr., the Orioles’ wonderful home stadium, Camden Yards, has seen a growing number of empty seats. Incredibly, in 2010 things seemed even worse. Through their first 105 games, the Orioles won only 32 times and were headed for an historic level of failure. Or so it seemed until Aug. 3rd.
On that date, the Orioles hired Buck Showalter, a veteran manager with a history of hard-nosed leadership. Under Showalter, something incredible happened: the Orioles became a different team. Over the final two months of the season, the Orioles won 34 games and lost only 23. Virtually every player on the team suddenly started playing better. The question is: what changed?
Players said it began on day one when Showalter met with the team and spoke frankly. As one player said, “We know what he expects. There was no magic formula, just a good shift in gears.” One other player said there was an extra element, admitting that when Showalter took over there was also “a little fear in there.”
Showalter himself says he emphasized only a few changes and none about fear. Partially he worked to keep the team’s bad moments from snowballing into something worse, which helps stop long losing streaks. And he urged maturity among his team with words that any manager should copy.
As Showalter said, “Your attitude should never go in a slump.” Baseball is a difficult game with hundreds of intangibles, but Showalter says attitude should not be on that list. “There are certain absolutes you control.”
He urged personal responsibility, albeit in a baseball way. His pitchers were told to simplify their approach instead of over-thinking situations. They also needed to understand that if they created a bad inning, it would be their responsibility to get out of it. His words worked. The pitchers became significantly better after Aug. 3rd.
Of course, there’s no telling if Showalter’s success with the Orioles means the team will be in playoffs a year from now. Showalter has been fired before and in baseball the only absolute truth seems to be that every manager eventually gets the boot. (Bobby Cox in Atlanta is a different story, but we’ll leave that aside today.) But even if Showalter doesn’t coach another victory, he leaves us with a wealth of managerial lessons.
Lay out clear expectations; manage attitudes; urge maturity and responsibility; and understand that sometimes the numbers don’t tell the whole story. In short, a winning lesson in many, many ways. Even from a last place team.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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