Managing Peak Performers

As both a baseball fan and a not-ready-for-prime-time “expert” on leadership, I’ve been following the Hanley Ramirez story as it has unfolded over the last couple of days. Ramirez is the talented superstar shortstop of the Florida Marlins who was removed from a game earlier this week for not hustling. Ramirez was not at all happy about the decision made by his manager, Fredi Gonzalez. As a result, a very public feud is now playing out in the media. (Click here for more.)
Translation. There was an isolated incident where the manager questioned the effort of his peak performer. The manager’s response to the incident ultimately resulted in a much larger problem affecting not only his relationship with his peak performer, but also affecting their relationships with the other players on the team, their relationships with the rest of the organization, and their relationships with the organization’s clients (or fans). Furthermore, it has opened the door for the competition to inquire about the availability of the organization’s peak performer. While Ramirez’s response to the manager’s decision cannot be condoned, one can reasonably question if this ugly mess of a situation could have been avoided had the manager taken a different approach.
There was a poll today on ESPN where readers were asked to choose between two responses to the following question.
“What do you think of Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez benching Hanley Ramirez during a game for not hustling after a ball?”
As I write this, there had been just over 30,000 total respondents. 88% of those people said this was a “necessary move to send a message” while a mere 12% said Gonzalez was “picking an unnecessary fight with his star.” Given the choice between the two, I’m in alignment with the minority but let’s take a look at the choices and I’ll tell you why.
Necessary move to send a message.
If a message needs to be sent, it is important to first define WHAT that message is and also HOW that message needs to be sent. Since we have no way of knowing if any of the other possible messages, or their various methods of delivery, would have been more effective we cannot definitively say this was THE necessary move. For instance, it has been well documented by the player, the manager, and the media, that Ramirez sustained a leg injury earlier in that same game. Instead of choosing the public embarrassment route, is it at least possible that things might have gone better or different had Gonzalez pulled Ramirez aside in the dugout after the play and said:
“Hanley, you looked really slow to that ball. I know you told me the leg was fine but it doesn’t look fine. Be honest with me. Are you sure you’re OK to continue? If not, let me know now so we can start treating it and get you ready for tomorrow. But if you stay in, I’ll be watching. And if it looks to me like you’re hurting, I’m going to pull you out of the game.”
Picking an unnecessary fight with his star.
If you’re a manager, your goal is to bring out the best in your people and to unite them in pursuit of a common goal. Your team will have members who possess a varying level of commitment and competence at any given time. When you notice someone’s commitment or competence dip, it’s your responsibility to help get it back up to its optimum levels. Public embarrassment is usually not an effective way to accomplish this. This is especially true when it concerns your peak performer who possesses a track record of superior performance and production. Again, the goal is to help lift them back up, not isolate them and knock them down even further.

One thought on “Managing Peak Performers

  1. Adam, interesting thoughts. As a baseball fan, I’ve followed the situation, somewhat. It’s a good question that you, and, have posed. And I see the parallels to the workplace. If we were checking in with the Blanchard Situational Leadership II model, I’d first ask if the Peak Performers “motivation” has been consistently low lately. In other words, has this “lack of hustle” been consistent of late? Has the Peak Performer slipped in their overall performance? If so, is calling them out publicly, or in front of the team, the best possible way to reprimand a Peak Performer.
    In the case with Rameriz, knowing what I know about his recent performance, I’d say the “lack of hustle” incident earlier this week was an anomaly, and the entire incident was blown out of proportion, played out on Sports Center (24/7 new media coverage). It will be interesting to see how this effects the team’s chemistry going forward, how it will affect his standing in the organization, and how it may effect the manager’s fate as the year goes on.
    Thanks for your thought provoking and timely article.

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