Leadership is a funny thing. All of us, non-athletes included, know what it means to be around a leader. Leaders aren’t always the bosses, though a workplace without strong leadership at the top tends to be a terrible work environment. Few things frustrate me more than working in a place where more time is spent in C.Y.A. mode than actually working.
Leadership is like pornography – hard to define but you know it when you see it. Leadership from on high or leadership among peers, it isn’t tough to spot a leader a mile away.
The concept of leadership in sports is easily dismissed by a certain segment of fans. Many tend to dismiss the nebulous idea of “leadership” because, far too often, it gets applied as a ex post facto narrative – leadership takes on whatever form the speaker needs to fill the holes in their story. Teams that win have leadership, teams that lose do not. This one-size-fits-all usage does the concept of leadership in sports a disservice. It is a real thing, what it is not is the biggest thing.
Yesterday’s link dump included an interview with thoughtful Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy, talking about leadership with Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. Ever the nerd hero, McCarthy changed tack and openly praised the leadership abilities of former teammate Michael Young, describing Young’s ability to lead quietly and specifically rather than through loud speeches and broad proclamations.
McCarthy’s defense of Young as a leader is full of qualifiers and assurances that no matter how dumb it sounds, it is real. The big right-hander speaks to the ability of leaders and “good guys” to set everyone at ease, allowing young players to relax and focus on the greater goals of the team rather than bogging themselves down with doubt over their own individual performance. “Bring guys into the fold” as McCarthy says. The former Rangers pitcher praises Young’s ability to assist without being a hectoring nanny, as Young passes on information gained through experience and observation rather than the entitled truisms which use his veteran status as a crutch.
In spite of my “sabr” leanings, this resonates with me. Not as though one fiery speech will rally the troops and allow scrubs to play like stars but clearing the way for players — young and old — to play to their abilities. Remove obstacles to their individual achievement because the team benefits when all parts are at their best. Building comfort and trust among teammates so that they might focus on the big picture instead of worrying about their job at every turn.
Brandon McCarthy last played with Michael Young in 2009, McCarthy’s final year of three in Texas. Those Rangers teams were not especially good, though they were laying the ground work for back-to-back World Series appearances under the watchful eye of general manager Jon Daniels, then one of the youngest GMs in sport.
Mike Hindman of Baseball Time in Arlington wrote a long and informative piece on the changes within the Rangers organization over the years, citing a previously divided front office drawn into two distinct camps.
Hindman notes how the young GM came into Texas and worked tirelessly to tear down the barriers between camps, to assure all members of the front office and baseball operations staff that if they could not work together, they would fail. That there is no room for factions when they all need to have a common goal – making the baseball team better.
A simple enough plea but it worked. Hindman credits Daniels for effectively changing the culture in Texas, for embracing the scouting staff and empowering those around him to work at what they do best to improve the team. In an earlier post, Hindman credits Nolan Ryan for overseeing this change, for standing behind the smart and capable people in his organization as they built a winner.
The leadership situation in Texas now is quite different. With change swirling around him, Nolan Ryan does not appear content to be the benovelant ballplayer turn successful businessman. In the beginning of his tenure in Texas, he was the public face yet silent partner of the Rangers – supporting the efforts of Daniels (who predates Ryan with the Rangers) during their ascendancy. Both Ryan and Daniels showed leadership – faith in the people around them to work in the best interests of the group in service of their own achievement.
No matter the profession, any workplace in which we spent more time keeping score — mentally logging victories and looking to offload blame to protect our own asses — than pursuing our goals is going to end up fractured. It takes leadership to keep all parties on the same page.
In the end, success is the greatest leader of all. It makes believers out of skeptics and buys time for those still peddling their message. Without leadership, no team can succeed. But without success, leadership becomes a tougher sell.
And the rest
In case you missed it, Italy is OUT of the World Baseball Classic after Puerto Rico rallied to a 4-3 victory. [Recap]
MLB TR runs down some veterans on minor league deals who are looking forward to a six-figure windfall in the next few weeks. [MLBTR]
What a patient plate approach really means to Red Sox hitters. [Providence Journal]
Predicting BABIP – a Sloan Analytics highlight [Fangraphs]
Emma Span on the BARVES [Sports on Earth]