Tuesday, April 27, 2004

┬┐Who's The Frelling Manager Here?
When Bile is Dodger Blue


Major league baseball, more than almost any endeavor outside of fire-fighting, has the highest concentration of hyper-competitive individuals who are also proven competents. The rigor and marathon work in the minors vet most everything up to the merely-excellent, leaving cream. Moreover, to succeed, most ballplayers need to be unrelentingly competitive.

In your own organization, you probably have a few highly competitive people, and if you're lucky, they're competent, too. Occasionally, one of your competitives will put pressure on you to change your mind to do things their way instead of your way. You need to be open to this. Staffers all know some things you don't, and each is likely to better at some things than you are. That's a given, like gravity, the intoxicating smell of fresh-baked bread, or the difficulty of explaining the infield fly rule to someone who has never seen a game before. But there will be many times you have to insist on your own way.

Rarely do you get to hear a famous person do it. In the following paragraph, there's a link to a piece of audio, an instance of a manager doing just that. If you're at work and your speakers are on, do not play this. If you're offended by cursing, do not play this. If you've had a rough day at work, do not play this.

There are right ways and wrong ways for a manager to insist on making a decision. One of the worst, albeit somewhat effective short term, ways to do it is a Tommy Lasorda approach, recorded here for you to play back (warning: ultra-strong, industrial-strength cursing). In the 4th game of the 1977 World Series between his L.A. Dodgers and the New York Yankees, he goes to the mound to take a hyper-competitive starting pitcher, Doug Rau, out of the game. Rau hasn't been hit very hard, but Yankee batters are getting on base against him. Lasorda already knows he's going to take Rau out. And he pulls an unusual approach.

Two cautions on the ultimate truth of this story. First, Lasorda had volunteered to to have a radio-transmitting microphone on his uniform for the television broadcast, so he may be hamming it up for the audience. Second, he admits right at the beginning to his pitching coach that he's going to stall to allow his reliever to get a little extra warm-up, so embellishing his approach here may have more to do with burning up time than it does his general approach to Rau.

When Lasorda gets to the mound, Rau has no idea the decision has been made; Lasorda isn't committing with his body language because he's stalling and doesn't want the umprire to come to the mound quickly, so Rau has no cues. The pitcher tells his manager he feels good. The manager blows up and let's it rip, pointing out there were four hits made. Rau tries to be brave and tells his manager he can get the opponents out. Lasorda's having none of it, his mind is made up, and just in case Rau might have a shadow of a dream of a glimmer that he might have a chance to stay in, Lasorda amplifies the personal attack. Rau shifts gears...he still wants to be in the game, but instead of insisting, he starts whingeing.

Lasorda doesn't want to hear any more. "I'll make the !#$!@ decisions here...I'm the manager of the team and I gotta make the decisions to the best of my ability. It may be the !#$!@ wrong decision but I'll make it".

Lasorda is sending the correct content, but with terrible form. And he gets so carried away that when another player comes to the mound to politely intercede, Lasroda chews his legs off, too.

I was a bit surprised to hear Lasorda take this approach, not because I thought he wasn't master cusser, not because I thought he was a polite person (he was well-known for being rude to reporters, but they are reporters, not his own players). I was surprised because he always made a point of differentiating himself from one of his early managers, Clay Bryant, who behaved precisely this way to Lasorda. I wrote about that approach late last year.


There may come a time that you need to channel the Bad Tommy on this sound clip. But about 19 times out of 20, this is a terribly short-sighted approach that may give you what you want in the present at the cost of repeated undermining later.

You have some advantages if you're not in baseball. The first is that you have fewer hyper-competitives, and most of those won't be competent, so it's easier to dismiss their high pressure tactics. The second is, you have a little time in most cases, at least more than you would as a baseball manager or a fire captain.

The proper way to deal with a hyper-competitive you're either giving constructive criticism to or taking an account from or asking for something different than what they believe they should be doing is to:

  1. Tell them you're going to ask for their opinion, but that you need to say your piece first.
  2. Clearly, tersely and with no modifers (sorta, kinda, maybe, perhaps, a little), state your decision.
  3. Invite them to respond.
  4. Listen.
  5. Take five minutes away from the hyper-competitive to consider what they said.
  6. Come back with the decision (yours, theirs or something in between) and stick with it if it's going to go against the hyper-competitive's argument. Yielding at this point is destructive and will encourage everyone on staff to push back. Some will do that just for sport.

As a last resort, remember these words: I'm the manager of the team and I gotta make the decisions to the best of my ability. It may be the wrong decision but I'll make it.

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