by Michael Sansolo
Successful management or leadership frequently requires two skills that are compatible and yet, in many ways, in opposition. Those skills are talking and listening.
This came to mind last week following the sad news of the death of Tommy Lasorda, the long-time manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Lasorda, a Hall of Fame manager, was known throughout his long tenure for his incredibly upbeat manner. I’m a big baseball fan and I can remember watching a Dodger game on television in the 1980s. I knew nothing about Lasorda until I heard him introduce his line-up for that day’s game.
He spoke glowingly of each player in the line-up, specifically mentioning each individual's strengths in a way that would make a Little League manager blush. But Dodger players at the time and upon reflection said Lasorda’s upbeat manner always mattered.
In other words, a manager’s words and enthusiasm can lead to heightened performance, in virtually any circumstance.
What I didn’t know was Lasorda’s ability to listen until I read a remarkable obituary following his passing. The story told in the obituary took place during the 1988 World Series, when Lasorda’s Dodgers were a distinct underdog against the then-fearsome Oakland A’s. The Dodgers were trailing by one run in the last inning of the first game and the A’s were set up to win.
At that moment, a Dodger batboy (basically a glorified equipment collector) went over to the very occupied manager with a message. Lasorda, according to the story, fired off an expletive, but then asked the batboy what he wanted. In other words, at an incredibly pressure-packed moment, he listened to possibly the lowest ranking person around.
Luckily he did. The batboy had been sent to tell Lasorda that Kirk Gibson, the Dodgers’ hulking, but badly injured slugger, was warming up under the stadium and felt he could actually hit.
Lasorda ran down to meet Gibson and decided to give the injured player the opportunity he desired. What followed was possibly one of the most storied moments in baseball’s long history - nine very dramatic and well-spent minutes for even those who don’t like baseball:
But what Lasorda demonstrated, in a business sense, was the ability to stop and listen, and a willingness to believe in key employees. Not just Gibson, but the batboy. Obviously, things transpired in a way that made Lasorda’s decision look fantastic, but the lesson to managers in less stressful situations in clear.
Talking enthusiastically about your team is incredibly important and can have an enormous impact on morale. But it’s equally important to listen and to believe in your team because doing so might make you a champion.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.
And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.
- KC's View:
A quick note here, if I may.
I remember that night as if it were yesterday. For reasons too complex to explain here, I was on a sailboat making its way slowly up the Hudson River, its small engine struggling against tides that were against us. The night was dark and silent, and the only thing my friend Jim Roxbury and I could hear was the boat's radio playing the Dodger-A's game. Jack Buck was doing the radio play-by-play, and he built up the tension in that way that only a skilled radio announcer could, and then, after Gibson hit the home run, exclaimed, "I don't believe what I just saw." It was magic.
It was only the next day that we were able to see the videotape of the home run, and Gibson's iconic trip around the bases, probably on some newscast's sports report. Which tells you something about how the world has changed. Today, we would be able to watch it on our smartphones, on the boat, and could replay it over and over on YouTube.
Which says a lot about the immediate access to information that consumers now have. Though, to be honest, it is a shame that the magic of a clear and silent night, punctuated only by the crackling sound of a baseball game on the radio, may be lost to memory.