Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter turned around a failing baseball franchise and made the team into a baseball postseason powerhouse. And he did this without the financial resources of the competition, in the toughest division in the game. This is the fourth time the manager has worked such miracles with an MLB team, making the postseason with three different teams. Whether you are a baseball fan or not, there are good leadership lessons to be learned from Showalter’s career that may help you in your company:
Changing the culture: When Showalter took over as manager of the New York Yankees in 1992, he inherited a team with a slew of malcontents. One of them was an outfielder named Mel Hall, who bullied Bernie Williams, one of the most promising young players on the team. Hall called the shy Williams “Bambi” and treated him badly, hazing him and hurting his confidence. Showalter got rid of players like Hall and saw Williams become a star. Leadership lesson: Don’t be afraid to get rid of bad actors in order to build your work team.
Spotting and developing talent: Former Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly, who played under Showalter and is now an MLB manager himself, said that Showalter has “the ability to spot talent that people miss.” In 1990, as a coach for the Yankees, spotted a young, unheralded pitcher in the lower levels of the Yankees farm system that he knew would be a star. The hurler? Mariano Rivera. Leadership lesson: Learn what makes a great employee at your company, and how to spot diamonds in the rough.
Expecting accountability: Employees are accountable not just to Showalter, but to each other. As he told the New York Times last month, “When you see something done the wrong way, you say, ‘Hey, that ain’t good enough.’” He said that as time goes on, “you get the players to do that for each other,” where they expect the best from themselves and their teammates. Leadership lesson: Holding your employees accountable can eventually result in their taking ownership of not just themselves but their co-workers.
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Showing no fear of the competition: Showalter currently manages in the American League East, the team with the toughest competition in baseball, with the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Tampa Bay Rays as rivals. Before he got there, his team played with fear of the superstars on the other teams. For his part, Showalter showed that the teams were nothing to be afraid of by, as he put it, taking the fight to his opponents, exhorting his players to play hard, and giving them a vision of success to strive for. He took the Orioles from 93 losses in 2011 to 93 wins in 2012 and their first playoff appearance in 15 years, a remarkable achievement. Leadership lesson: Don’t be afraid of taking on the big dogs in your industry.
Paying attention to detail: In each of his managerial stops, Showalter has shown great attention to the little things, from picking the colors of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ uniforms to redesigning the Orioles’ spring training facility to more closely resemble Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the team’s stadium. Doing so has raised the bar as far as creating a team ethos. Leadership lesson: You can change the big things by changing the little things.
Be prepared: Showalter puts in the preparation, staying hours after the game to work on strategy. He also makes sure to impart this knowledge to his players, so they can execute this strategy. That preparation is one of the reasons why the Orioles have a won-loss record that is 11 games more than they should have this year, given how many runs they score. Leadership lesson: Put in the work if you want to run with the big dogs.
Expecting the best, and establishing consequences: When Showalter first met with his Orioles players after taking over the team in the summer of 2010, he had a dry-erase board in the background listing replacements from each player in the minor leagues. This was done to let the players know that they couldn’t be complacent about their spot on the team. Leadership lesson: Don’t let you staff feel that they can have a job forever, even if they don’t produce.
Changing with the times: While nobody will ever call Showalter mellow, the 56-year-old manager he showed that he was capable of lightening up a little, and communicating with players 35 years younger, when he got the job with the Orioles after not managing for four years. The notoriously austere manager even allowed the Orioles to have a ping-pong table in his spring training facility, something they didn’t expect him to let him keep. Leadership lesson: Be willing to relax a little if it means gaining better relationships with your staff.