Having strong leadership in place isn’t a key to success in business alone; it’s a universal principle that extends beyond the office building. Strong leaders produce results and weak ones produce disasters –it doesn’t matter what field you’re in. Just ask the Red Sox.
The baseball fans out probably know the story already, but for those of you who don’t know an RBI from an MRI, here’s the quick background story: despite getting off to a slow start, the Boston Red Sox went on an impressive run over summer. They were on pace to win 100 games (a difficult task for even a great team), and by the end of August they held a 9 game lead in the race for the playoffs –a seemingly insurmountable edge. All in all, the team looked poised to make a run for the World Series.
Then September hit and the wheels fell off. The team proceeded to lose 21 of their final 29 games and watched as their 9 game lead evaporated into a tie with the Rays for the final playoff spot going into the final game of the season. In a perfect representation of the season as a whole, the Red Sox lead the Orioles going into the final inning of the game and seemed to have shaken off their September woes. However, in a matter of only a few minutes the Orioles made a comeback and stunned the Red Sox. The Rays mounted a comeback of their own to win their game and take a one game lead over the Red Sox. On the last night of the season, Boston finished its epic collapse and missed the playoffs.
So what’s this have to do with leadership or business for that matter? Everything, actually. As a recent report documents, the team’s manager, Terry Francona, had lost influence and sway with the players. He could no longer motivate them, and the team’s leaders seemed disinterested in helping him. A general malaise took over the organization. Players skipped practice, worked out less, and became disengaged. By September the balance had tipped and the bad habits began manifesting themselves in games. The result was a collapse for the ages. Without a strong leader keeping the team looking forward, the players lost sight of the goal and started putting themselves ahead of the organization. A few days after the season ended, Francona met with the Red Sox brass and the two sides decided to part ways.
In truth, though, Terry Francona is not a bad manager. In his 8 years with the organization, Francona lead the team to 2 World Series victories and several playoff appearances. By almost all standards, he was a very good manager. However, in the words of Bob Dylan, the times are a-changing. He was the leader they needed for several years, but not the one they needed this past year, and not the one they need for the future. Baseball and business are similar in this respect: success yesterday does not guarantee success today, and success today does not mean success tomorrow. If the leader can’t motivate his team to produce, it’s time for a change in direction. It’s not about skill sets or past performances, it’s about results.
Yes, baseball is about homeruns and strikeouts, but when it comes down to it the same rules still apply. A team needs a leader, and sometimes that leader needs to change.