Leadership Lessons from the 2011 World Series

The drama unfolding in the 2011 World Series of Major League Baseball is nothing short of epic. The Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals have been engaged in a week long back and forth battle that I’m sure even the Greek gods would envy. Now last nights, dramatic, Game 6, instantly known as one of the most dramatic games in Series history, will ensure that the championship will be won on a final and decisive game. This Fall Classic will become an instant historical gem in the minds of baseball fans and sports enthusiastic alike.

2011 Fall Classic

And if you are willing to looking just beneath the surface of all the towel waving, paw clawing, praying hands, squirrel wearing, fanatical behavior of the massive crowds attending these games, you will find some interesting leadership lessons unfolding during this duel for the ages.
Embracing the Past
All championships are won long before they are played. The two teams gridlocked in this epic battle have been assembled by some of the brightest minds in baseball through the general management of John Mozeliak (Cardinals) and Jon Daniels (Rangers). But perhaps the brightest front office star in all of baseball is the principal owner, president and CEO of the Texas Rangers, Nolan Ryan.
Ryan is considered by many to be the greatest pitcher in baseball history, pitching a record seven no-hitters and is MLB’s All Time strikeouts leader. Having a Hall of Fame player, who was an important part of the Rangers team history, now serve in an executive capacity has produced great success on the field. Ryan’s old school, competitive attitude, has been contagious in the locker room and on the field.
Good organizations would do well by honoring past associates that served them with excellence. Founding associates of an organization not only bring an important historical perspective to the current employees of an organization, they have a lifetime of experience that may be extremely valuable in motivating the current workforce of an organization to embrace the original principles that made them great at it’s inception.
Embracing the Future (Through Technology)
One of the storylines in this World Series was the Phonegate saga of Game 5, when Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa tried calling out to the bullpen to warm up some of his key relief pitchers that were needed in the close game. La Russa asked for pitcher Jason Motte, and instead, the bullpen coach claimed that he heard, pitcher Marc Rzepczynski’s name called in by La Russa. “Can you hear me now,” became the battle cry of Game 5.
But the bigger question for baseball, and manager Tony La Russa, is the fact that there are phones from the Mid-70s in the dugouts and bullpens—even in newer ballparks like the ones in Arlington and St. Louis. Management may want to buy La Russa and the coaching staff a new Smartphone for Game 7, so that they can be on the same page. He could even use iPhone 4s Siri application to help him manage the game.
“Who should I bring into pitch next,” La Russa could ask Siri. “Based on the next three hitters in the Rangers line up,” she would respond in her robotic tone, “I suggest you go with the Lefty, Arthur Rhodes.” And then she would ask, “Would you like me to place a call or text your Bullpen Coach, Derek Lilliquist?”
Organizations need to embrace technology. Not just recognizing that there are certain trends you need to be aware of, but a systematic strategy to integrate new technologies into the way you do business. Your clients and Raving Fans need to trust you’re delivering service and products in the best and most effective means to meet the current needs of the people using those products and services.
Living in the Moment
After the rainout of Game 6 on Wednesday evening in St. Louis, many members of the press were asking Manager Ron Washington whom he would start in Game 7 of the World Series if the Rangers were forced to play a final game. The question itself was very odd, considering the fact that Game 6 had not even been played yet, and many people were thinking ahead to Game 7. But what’s even stranger is that Washington engaged the question by saying, “It’s Harry’s game. I’m going to stay consistent. That’s Harry’s game. Matt Harrison earned it.”
It’s hard to imagine that a manager could get sucked into answering questions about a game that would not happen if they went out and won Game 6. The right answer should have been, “I’m not thinking at all about a Game 7. Our focus is going out there and winning Game 6 and bringing a championship back to Texas.”
Good leaders honor the past, plan for the future, but are focused on seizing the moment. The moment an organization takes their eye off of the ball it affords opportunity to make little mistakes. A fundamental characteristic of great leaders are their ability to get their people focused on the moment, completing the task at hand with excellence—not fretting about what tomorrow may bring.
Baseball needed a great Fall Classic and they finally got one this year. Tonight’s Game 7, no matter what the outcome, will be the final chapter of a classic duel between two classy organizations. And if you read between some of the storylines, you may just find something that can drive you and your people toward organizational and personal success.
Jason Diamond Arnold
Co-author of Situational Self Leadership in Action

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