Baseball and Management
I have had this dream for a long time about writing about baseball and management. During one of the most trying periods of my life, baseball saved me, kept me sane, kept me focused, and helped me build some unforgettable memories with my family.
According to David McRaney and his clever website You Are Not So Smart, we live two concurrent lives: The current self, and the remembering self. A happy life is achieved when both of our selves are in balance, we enjoy the moment, and we build new memories.
David also wrote the book, You Are Not So Smart, a very entertaining read or listen, if you like audible. His website and book are very entertaining essays on psychology, but very little on “management”. Baseball helped me achieve both goals – enjoying the moment, and building memories.
But what does that have to do with management?
Why A Manager?
From an early age, I wanted to be a “good” manager. I suppose it dated back to when I was very young. My grandmother would watch me while my mom worked. I have this vivid memory of being at Heinz Park in Detroit (it’s a nice place when the drug addicts and thugs are not around). I remember it as a sylvan summer paradise with shallow creek, green lawns and massive trees that stretched to the sky providing the perfect amount of shade.
My grandmother and her sisters were sitting around exchanging horror stories of ex-husbands and terrible bosses. I think I said something like, “I am not going to be like that grandma!” She patted me on the head kindly and said, “I know sweetie.” Perhaps that memory is a bit too idyllic. I do recall that I wanted to be the kind of person my Grandmother would be proud of. Later, after reading Harvey McKay’s Swim with the Sharks, I co-opted his 3 goals: 1. Be a good husband 2. Be a good father 3. Be a good businessman
For me, the operative word here is “good”. What did that mean? What does it mean?
A Good Manager
I find it interesting that the head coach in baseball is called a manager. In his autobiography The Red Sox Years, Terry Francona wrote that it bothered him when sports writers called him “Coach”. He was the Manager of the Red Sox. Not a coach. So a manager is more than a coach.
But what is a coach?
Some have called a coach a teacher…
A Coach Is Different Than a Teacher
In my experience however, while coaching involves some elements of teaching, a coach is different from a teacher in this important aspect. Teachers are expected to train individuals to meet certain prescribed standards of competence, knowledge or skill. We run tests to find out how well students have learned. These tests are often standardized.
Coaches however, need to find a way to get the most out of the players have have, using a variety of techniques and skills that work best for the player. Teachers, at least in todays education system, rarely have that much latitude or freedom. A good coach teaches. A great coach finds out what works for you and helps you get the most out of what you have.
If you don’t believe me, check out Sir Ken Robins Ted Talk. I was fortunate enough to spend a day with Mr. Robins when I was with the Walt Disney company. Creativity and individuality are crucial components of Disney’s extensive and protracted success.
So if a coach gets the most out of a player? What does a manager do?
A Manager is Different Than a Coach
And here we are at the crux of this whole article. A good manager gets the most out of his team. One of the most profound quotes I ever read about management came from Peter Drucker. I paraphase, but he wrote, “A good manager makes the individual team members strengths overlap so their weaknesses are irrelevant.”
That, for me, was the best definition of a manager I had ever see, and it nicely fit with what I had seen in baseball. Coaches improved individual performance. Coaches taugh skills, and worked with players to improve at their craft. But a Manager worked with the whole team. The manager was the one who put the pieces together. The manager was the one who tried to make those strengths overlap so that the weaknesses did not matter.
Good managers, then in short, build winning teams.
But how? I think baseball has a lot to teach us in that regard, which is one of the reasons I love it so.
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