On "Moneyball" and Leadership
On "Moneyball" and Leadership
Moneyball is not strictly a baseball story. It is also a story of rapid change in the business world.
Well, this has been quite the World Series – a Fall Classic showdown between Texas and St. Louis that even a die-hard Red Sox fan like me has enjoyed. Around Red Sox nation these days, anything to do with baseball is a sore subject – after the Sox suffered such an epic collapse in September.
But the film Moneyball has me thinking about the cliché that "baseball is a metaphor for life." And as the 2011 season winds to a close, I'm struck by how that movie offers a definite lesson in leadership that I want to explore here briefly.
Moneyball stars Brad Pitt as Oakland A's General Manager (GM) Billy Beane. The film follows the Oakland A’s in the 2002 season ---when Beane implemented a unique strategy to overcome the advantage enjoyed by big-checkbook teams like the New York Yankees.
After the Yankees bought three star players out from under him, Beane decided he needed to adapt and innovate. In the film, we see Beane override his scouts to recruit players who can simply get on base — even with a walk. He hires a pitcher who is unattractive to other teams for irrelevant reasons: "He throws funny." He uses statistical data to staff his team, which is described as "an island of misfit toys."
What’s the leadership lesson? Well, it helps to take note that Moneyball is not strictly a baseball story. It is also a story of rapid change in the business world.
Beane begins the film relying on a statistical hot-shot and composite character, "Peter Brand," to choose his players — while shutting out the A's long-term, experienced scouts. Brandt and Beane put together a team that promptly sinks to the bottom of the division. By keeping his new strategy close to the vest, Beane manages to alienate many of his employees and saps the morale of his team. A’s coach Art Howe is shown blatantly defying Beane's wishes.
But about forty minutes into the story, Beane adjusts his style. We see him chatting with his players and coach, describing what he’s thinking and what he expects. Beane approaches Dave Justice, a 36-year-old player whom he recruited against the advice of his scouts. Beane admits he can't implement his approach alone. He gets Justice's agreement to step up and be a leader.
Beane opens up to the people who are being affected by his decisions, sharing his strategy, and recruiting others to do the same. In short, he practices transparency.
Soon the A’s are climbing out of the division basement. They post a 20-game winning streak — a feat never before accomplished in baseball. Although they lose to the Minnesota Twins in postseason play, Beane's innovative and cost-effective strategy is quickly adopted by other teams. (Including the Red Sox, according to the film.)
In Moneyball, Beane learns — and demonstrates — that a leader’s transparency builds trust, morale, and better outcomes.
Today, many teams use a version of Beane’s strategy. Most (including the A's) are implementing a hybrid approach, blending the experience of veteran scouts with raw statistical data. Entering the 2011 season, only five GMs since 1950 had a higher winning percentage than Billy Beane (minimum 10 seasons, 1,000 wins).
Listen to an NPR review of Moneyball here.
Published on 10/26/11 06:10 PM