Sunday, December 08, 2013

La Russa Agile (and Beyond) Innovation #8 of 17: When Blocked, Channel Your Mentors  

Too many experienced managers limit their ability to adapt to rapidly-changing or even slowly-evolving decisionmaking areas because they don't keep a broad portfolio of mentors' templates.

What I mean is a big part of management is decisions and how we go about choosing how we will execute those decisions is dependent on how big our toolbox is and how much of it we're adequate with or have mastered. The people who make good managers observed their own bosses when they were non-managers, and recorded their techniques and how these worked in varying contexts. Then, when they become managers themselves, they field and respond to the decisions they are confident they have nailed down but riffle through their mentors' techniques for the rest.

Mentors, in this use, don't have to be one's own supervisors, they can be peers, rivals or even people who report to you. In Baseball, it's s.o.p. to use everyone as a potential source for successful templates to emulate or for failures to avoid. Arrogance about status is almost non-existent as a barrier in identifying ways to improve.

In Baseball, furthermore, one channels these other experts all the time, even when not in the middle of a decision to be made.

There's a great example of how they do it in Baseball that Tony La Russa wrote about in his recent book, (pages 119-121). The situation is this: part way through the 2011 season, La Russa's St. Louis Cardinals were on the ropes, when they got an added challenge. La Russa's key field management partner and confidante, pitching coach & strategist extraordinaire Dave Duncan, took a leave from work to attend to his wife's critical health condition.

I was still going to be in touch with him because that's Dunc: even if he wasn't right next to me to bounce ideas off, he was still there in the dugout because of all the things he'd taught me over the years. I can't say for sure what effect Dunc's absence had on the pitching staff at first. Dunc being Dunc, he didn't want to make a big deal about his leaving, but the guys did know what he and Jeanine were going through. I wasn't about to use that as a tool to motivate them. Baseball is baseball and life is life, but if guys were going to take some inspiration, learn some lesson about how to deal with a difficult thing head-on, they could find no one better to emulate than Dave Duncan.

there's absolutely no reason to sluff this technique. If you're not yet a manager, or early in your management career yourself, start collecting "mentors" and their decision-making templates. And if you're senior, and you're not already doing this, it's not to late to up your game. When you keep the portfolio of mentors in your decision-making head, you have a more rounded team of experts and their expertise than you can bring to bear just resting on your own native tools.

It's standard operating procedure in Baseball, and Baseball management is a lot more capable and effective than leadership is in your own endeavor. There's no excuse in the practice of decision-making to not follow La Russa and his Baseball peers.

When you're in an Agile or Lean environment, the resistance factors to applying the Baseball approach are way lower. Agile and Lean both recognize the team is responsible for most of the tactical decision-making, and managers who follow the team are not ridiculed as they are in many corporate and almost all military and academic settings. But not all managers in these environment realize they should not just "let" the team make decisions, but that they should actively be mining those decisions as mentor templates.

If you're not doing this already, it's not too late to start.

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