Leadership Lessons From the San Francisco Giants
BY Brian Evje
How did the San Francisco Giants win? The same way your company can.
As a lifelong San Francisco Giants fan, I’m thrilled that the club just won its second World Series in three seasons and is celebrating today in San Francisco. As a management consultant, I’m very pleased that their journey highlights useful leadership lessons for people who want to succeed in highly competitive industries. Here are 7 lessons.
1. Listen To and Encourage Unfamiliar Voices
Behind by two games in a best-of-five playoff series, an unfamiliar voice spoke to the team before an elimination game. Outfielder Hunter Pence, who joined the Giants nine weeks earlier, was an unlikely source of a Knute Rockne-like speech. By all accounts, his impassioned exhortations helped inspire 11 victories in the next 14 games, including a four-game sweep in the World Series.
Clearly, the Giants’ organization created an environment that made Pence feel safe enough to speak up. What would have happened to the end of the season if the Giants’ culture did not allow this kind of expression? How does your organization encourage or punish unfamiliar voices?
2. A Charismatic Leader Is Not Required
Giants’ Manager Bruce Bochy is about as laconic as they come. (Giants’ broadcaster Jon Miller joked that sometimes interviewing Bochy nearly puts him to sleep.) Bochy’s lack of charisma belies his fierce steadiness - nothing seems to rattle him, and this even keel was remarkably contagious to the team during tough times. Bochy’s baseball knowledge (his “hard skills”) is second to none; his ability to relate to people (his “soft skills”) is firmly focused on aligning others to the shared purpose; and, like every good coach/manager/leader, when the team loses Bochy takes responsibility. And when the Giants win, he gives all the credit to the team.
3. Culture Does Change
For more than a decade, the Giants organization revolved around superstar Barry Bonds, whose mammoth home runs were matched by his divisive presence in the clubhouse (and involvement with performance-enhancing drugs.) In short, it was all about Barry. After the organization decided not to re-sign Bonds, the Giants’ leadership consciously turned the page to shift the focus from A Star to The Team. This decision was supported by the hiring of a new manager (Bochy), shuffling people and responsibilities at the ownership level, and signing players with a “team first” mindset.
The point is that the culture change happened because changes were made first at the top, and the new priorities permeated the organization because leadership made it an ongoing priority with unrelenting resolve. You can affect culture change in your organization with a similar approach.
4. When One Door Closes…
The Giants faced several serious challenges this season. They lost a key pitcher at the start of the season; their nearest division rivals made a dramatic talent acquisition late in the season in an effort to win the division; and in August the Giants’ best player was suspended for the season. One can easily see analogous challenges in the business world - and the point is how an organization responds. The Giants chose to face these adversities as genuine opportunities to coalesce as a team and re-commit to a shared purpose. When one door closed, the team found another door to open.
5. Rebuild When Needed
The Giants’ starting lineup for 2012 World Series included only one position player from their 2010 championship team. After a successful end to 2010, the 2011 season was disappointing for a number of reasons. The Giants’ management realistically and dispassionately evaluated the current personnel and made many changes to serve the future while letting go of the past.
6. Know Your People
During their championship season, the Giants adjusted for injuries and inconsistent performances, and asked certain players to take on new roles. The majority of these transitions were successful because the club a) connected all of the changes to the broader vision of doing what was best for the team, b) recognized that not everyone is interchangeable, and did not make over-the-top demands of people, and c) gave plenty of support and encouragement to those who were asked to do new things.
7. Play For Each Other
The core of Hunter Pence’s inspiring speeches was that he did not want the season to end because he did not want to stop being with the team. He did not want the group to disband. He spoke of his respect and love for each member of the team. He spoke of belonging to something larger than himself, more special than anything he could accomplish alone, and the fleeting nature of the experience. The team responded by not focusing on the fear of failure, or the potential of losing glory and individual riches.
Instead, they played to not let down their teammates. They played for a shared purpose. They played for each other.
And in the process, they happened to win a championship.
BRIAN EVJE helps people and organizations lead change and growth. Brian is a Principal of Equipoise Alliance, an organizational consultancy, a Member of The Change Leaders, and an Executive-in-Residence at Astia, a global not-for-profit propelling women’s full participation as entrepreneurs and leaders in high-growth businesses. He is a graduate of Santa Clara University, and the Master’s program Consulting and Coaching for Change at HEC School of Management, Paris / Saїd Business School, University of Oxford.