Monday, July 02, 2007

After the Bottom of the 9th:
Mike Hargrove Models Managerial Exit With Class  

"The highs were no longer high enough and the lows were too low."
-- Mike Hargrove

Managers don't always have the chance to choose their own exit. If you can choose your own final curtain, you can't choose a better model than the one one chosen yesterday morning by Mariner manager Mike Hargrove. "The Human Rain Delay", as he was known during his playing career (he wouldn't be known as that today...he would be a tiny bit above average average in how often, and for how long, he stepped out of the batter's box between pitches), made his departure announcement at a pre-game press gathering before his final game after a seven game win streak & with his team in second place, four games out at 45-33. He would leave after the Sunday game's conclusion.

When I worked a suicide hot line, one of the precepts we got in training was that among the people who were most likely to try a serious self-termination attempt were those who were getting a high period after suffering a long-term down. Their impetus: As opposed to being down and holding out for a positive stretch, they realized the positive stretch, as good as it was, just didn't outweigh/overshadow the down times.

Pretty close to a sentence he spoke during the gathering: "The highs were no longer high enough and the lows were too low." It wasn't the losing that ate his competitive guts -- it was his realization that even winning didn't feed his need to win enough to make every day the first day of the rest of his managerial life.

He cited another reason. He said, and I'm paraphrasing from memory here, that he had spoken to his wife about his decision over the last ten days -- and that this had been more talking with his wife than he had for the previous ten years.

One day, you will be facing the possibility of separating from your management position. You might be in a struggling organization, knowing one of those brain-dead layoff plans is likely on its way (brain-dead = the talent quotient of the thrown overboard is no lower than those staying...in short, the norm for large American business, academia and non-profit organizations). You might sense the organization is moving away from your sweet spot or growth opportunities for you. Or it may be that you're just tired of the say-to-day routine.

Or like Hargrove, you might have lost the ability to deliver the effort to achieve excellence that you demand (and have to demand) from your staff.

"I've daily challenged my players to give me the best that they've got, 100 percent of what they've got that day - physically and mentally. And they've done that. Without fail, they've done that," he said.

"I have never had to work at getting that level myself - ever - until recently. I've found that I've had to work harder in making that same commitment to my bosses, to my players and to my coaches. And that's not right," Hargrove said, turning away and choking back tears. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer story by AP's Gregg "Don't Call Me Jorge" Bell)

It's terribly hard to walk away from what the outside world sees as success, regardless of how strong your own ego is. It requires a lot of courage. So Mike Hargrove left as he served -- as a classy gentleman, not carried off the field of battle on his shield at the whim of his bosses, not in the throes of a bleak stretch, but knowing he had done a very brave, extraordinary thing. Within the baseball realm, he had not been an exceptional manager for quite a few years; he made many a tactical move that made many of us roll our eyes, and was rarely good at using his Mariner bench, even when the front office provided him a way-better-than-average one and he had a very mortal everyday line-up against which to cobble them. But he was and is a class act, a solid man a clever manager (more capable than 95% of managers beyond baseball at the required crafts), very honest but never cruel, very accountable. 

Here are three elements to The Hargrove Exit worth remembering when it comes time to separate from a management position.

#1. Leave on Your Terms, Not Your Bosses'. Departures can be pretty intense, especially if you've bonded to the organization or the people or your craft developed there. Hanging on until someone else decides you should go, while gratifying to the passive, results more often than not in more traumatic departures...bittersweet with the accent on the bitter.

#2. Leave on a High Note. More often than not, you're remembered for whatever big event or set of events happened just before you left office. Gerald Ford will always be remembered as the President who "lost" the war on Vietnam (even though he just happened to inherit the inevitable endgame he had helped in his own small way set in motion during his congressional career) -- when his four predecessors had a lot more to do with it than he -- Ford just happened to be in the Oval Office when Saigon fell. 

So more than just leaving at a time of your own choosing, try to leave on a highlight, a new accomplishment, something positive you will always be remembered for.

#3. Leave If You Know You Can't Get Better Every Day/Week. If you can't decide between achieving more than has ever been achieved before and taking a mental health day off more than about three or four days in a row, it's probably time to move on. In a competitive world, you're not doing your workgroup, your organization or yourself much of a favor by going through the motions. The exact number of days you struggle with this is inexact. For Hargrove, it was about ten -- he had told his GM, Bill Bavasi, ten days earlier he was thinking about it -- at the end of a losing streak. Bavasi sagely advised him to wait and make sure this seemingly radical move was the right one for him. Hargrove waited, tasted the win streak, and still realized it was, in the realm of his full life, dust in the wind (that is, the theme song of the 2007 Kansas City Royals).

#4. Remember Not-Work Life Counts, Too. There will always be moments -- weeks, even months -- for a manager when work is all that counts and non-work life has to take a back seat. But there has to be balance to maintain perspective to be able to act with any wisdom; you might put decisionmaking on auto-pilot...make repeated standard operating procedure responses over and over. This doesn't guarantee failure in any specific action...in fact any individual following of standard operating procedure makes it less likely that the individual choice will be a two-pitch strikeout, but over time it guarantees rigidity which, ove the long haul almost certainly guarantees failure.

Hargrove knew his life balance had gotten out of whack -- in part, he hinted, it was the constraint on his ability to perform to his managerial potential. It took him a lot longer than it would for managers in most lines of work because Baseball demands more focus and commitment than most endeavors, and pulls the balance away from not-work more than most.

You, on the other hand, are not in a crucible as zero-sum, as relentlessly grinding a competitive line f work as Baseball. You've got it easier than The Human Rain Delay or any other baseball manager.

Remember Hargrove's choice. It's not a reason to leave, just a way to walk off the field, down the dugout steps, and into the tunnel with your head held high.

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