Hitting a home run in leadership is not unlike hitting a home run in baseball. Every industry has its Legacy members. Traditionalists who’ve devoted years of service to the industry. They’re often rooted in age-old customs, and they hold history in the highest regard. To change is sacrilegious.
Raise your hand if this sounds like your credit union or community bank: "The status quo is the way to go."
Baseball is no different. It’s America’s Pastime after all, and it’s a game that’s been played in the U.S. since 1846.
In today’s game, baseball organizations are just like any other business. They have financial projections, and they set goals to get there. They face challenges from other forces, and there’s internal politics. But there are, perhaps, no challenges bigger than money.
To solve that problem, in what’s considered an unfair game (how much money a team has), took unorthodox thinking. A radical approach; a buck of the system. Whether you're a baseball fan or not, here's why this matters to you as a leader in your organization.
For years, it was understood that baseball organizations who spent the most money assembled the best teams. Think NY Yankees, Boston Red Sox, LA Dodgers. Naturally, their payroll affords them to pay for the best players. The best players demand the biggest contracts.
After a heartbreaking loss in the 2001 baseball season, General Manager Billy Beane is charged with assembling a winning Oakland Athletics team after three of its key players departed to join other ball clubs for more money.
Beane’s challenge was Oakland’s small budget (nowhere near the teams mentioned above). He had to think differently.
Meet Peter Brand.
Brand reintroduces a decades-old phenomenon that uses big data and mathematics to assemble a successful team within the confines of Oakland’s budget. Instead of focusing on "buying players," the pair shift their focus to "buying runs."
Beane and Brand were able to take a different approach when they scouted for talent. Using data and sabermetrics, they analyzed players to find value that no other ball club could see. They built their team into strong contenders of the sport, and ultimately accomplished what everyone else denied.
Not everyone is quick to follow. Especially in an industry rooted in tradition; one where the overall consensus is ‘we’ve always done it this way.’
During the 2002 baseball season, Beane was at odds with Oakland’s Manager Art Howe. Howe is a traditionalist, and he believes in baseball customs that were once considered religious in the sport.
From Beane’s perspective, Howe mismanages the team during the first part of the season, which puts the team in last-place in the standings. Beane built a team that the organization could afford; not one designed to play ‘the old way.’
The two eventually get on the same page, but their contentious relationship provides a great lesson in leadership. Change happens in the smallest and most excruciating increments. Resistant forces exist everywhere, and simply issuing a directive doesn’t generate buy-in.
“It’s a process.”
GMs are typically considered Front Office workers in the baseball hierarchy; to be anywhere near the field or the players is unusual for a GM (especially during the early-2000’s). But again, Beane went off-script when things weren’t working.
He used his unique perspective as a former player —turned General Manager— to connect with his team. He communicated his vision with his players, through impromptu visits to the locker room and post-practice team meetings.
Your team needs to know where you intend to take them. They need to know when it’s ok to conserve fuel, and when it’s time to go full-throttle. They need to know how their role contributes to the overall process. And it’s your job to tell them.
Bring along a passenger.
The film Moneyball shows us how Brand’s partnership with Billy Beane evolves into an apprenticeship. Under his mentor, Brand has unfettered access to the inner workings of the organization. He’s eager to learn, and at times, he gets some experience with ‘the hard stuff.’
The opportunity to mentor is a gift. It means someone out there believes in you and what you stand for. You get a hand in molding and shaping a leader of the future. One day, they could replace you. They might even leave you.
But a great leader takes pride in unlocking the true value and potential in others. Because in any organization, including baseball, the name on the back of the jersey means nothing. It’s the name on the front that matters.
And as for the success of Moneyball in Oakland?
On August 13, 2002, the A’s won their first of what would become a 20-game winning streak, ending on September 6. It was the first time in American League baseball history a team achieved 20 consecutive victories.
They won the same number of games as the New York Yankees that season. The Yankees spent $1.4MM per win; the Athletics spent $260,000.
It only took 156 years for someone to come along who tried something different.