Monday, April 27, 2015

Just Because He Was A Narcissist Who Behaved As Though He Was
a Sociopath, Doesn't Mean Billy Martin Had No Positive Management Lessons  

Preparation always shows itself in the spontaneity of the moment." - Billy Martin

One of the most controversial managers of the 1970s and 1980s was controversial not for his management, but for his unusually unpleasant personality and perma-hostile behavior. I haven't included Billy Martin in many MBB pieces because I got to experience his behavior in person. I don't like bully-wannabes, but this is not meant to depreciate the skill with which he managed on the field, which was exceptionally good, especially early on with a new team that hadn't yet experienced his portfolio.

Author Bill Pennington recently penned a new volume about Martin, Billy Martin: Baseball's Flawed Genius and there are three great management lessons in there for managers who work for organizations in competitive environments.

Like every successful manager in Baseball, Martin took on proteges, even though the act of doing it in a zero-sum environment diminishes the opportunities that accrue to the mentor. Some deliver mentoring quite deliberately, making the protege sit next to the manager during games or in the office during game prep, and some do it in a more apparently passive way, just occasionally but rgeularly sharing ideas or asking questions

Martin took on current Baltimore Orioles' manager Buck Showalter as an explicit protege.

“After a week of following Billy around I felt like I had never seen a baseball game before,” Showalter, a college all-American who had won two minor league championships as a manager, said in 2013. “He showed me everything I wasn’t seeing from the dugout.”

Martin didn't just pass on the obvious. He poured on the lessons, so many, so useful that even an experienced baseball manager hadn't recongized. It's certain Billy Martin knew many things few other managers did.

That's true Beyond Baseball, too. Most good managers know some techniques or insights most others don't. The secret to good management inside and beyond baseball is bringing those benefits together into one's toolbox and knowing when to call upon one, either because one just knows they are probable winners, or when one is premeditatively experimenting.

Mentor freely. Invest in it for the organization that's paying your way, or, if you're working for yourself, to strengthen your own organization.

There are plenty of times something comes up and you have to apply yourself in the moment. But you can become a management star if you collect your data before you need it. When you do, you'll act more quickly and decisively -- people will think you're a star. To do this, you have to pay attention constantly, examine behaviors, data, the interaction between decisions and outcomes.

“He (Martin) showed me a thousand things, like how he stole the other teams’ signs,” Showalter said. “It was about watching the other manager and the opposing catcher, but the opposing batters, too.

“Every team has the batter give a return signal to the third-base coach that acknowledges that a bunt, a steal or a hit-and-run is on. If you watch, you can pick up the return signal — the batter taps his cleats or touches the brim of his cap. The key is to watch closely early in the game when they’re not doing any of those things, then notice the differences later in the game when more of those kinds of plays are going on.”

Beyond Baseball, you're able to do this, as well. And, yes, in a competitive line of work, this is effective for understanding better where others are headed. But merely applying this relentless observation on your own organization's managers and executives gives you advance notice of likely moves and common motivations.

You know that platitude,"take care of the little things, and the big things will take care of themselves."? Well, that a load of crap invented by manager-wannabes who aren't sure what the big things are, or fear they don't know how to execute in that zone. That said, if you're in a competitive environment, the little things matter a lot, too.. As Showalter detailed many of Martin's mite-management:

“He (Martin) showed me a thousand things, like how he stole the other teams’ signs,” Showalter said. “It was about watching the other manager and the opposing catcher, but the opposing batters, too.

“He instructed the infielders in all these intricacies — how you should make tags with a V motion, not a U motion, because a V is quicker,” Showalter said. “He talked about how you should never reach for a throw and never catch it in front of the base. Instead, let it come to you; a thrown ball travels faster to the base than your hands can. He was a stickler for how to perform a rundown, and his big thing was not to catch and chase the runner with the ball in a rundown. The runner has got to go back to some base; let him come to you. Be patient and don’t panic.

“He taught me to have my eyes darting everywhere, looking for something to use later in a game. Take a ball that one of your guys hits into the right-center-field gap. Billy said don’t watch the ball; you know it’s going to be a double or a triple. Watch to see if the pitcher is backing up third. Is the left fielder moving? Are the relay guys in the proper order? How are the outfielders’ and infielders’ arms? You have a checklist of things to look for that might tell you something that you can use later.

A Beyond Baseball point worth internalising is that "don't watch the ball". Too many managers reduce their data input, and many more aspire toreduce it, to a "dashboard", or the minimum number of points with which to make the most decisions. This is understandable, not stupid. But it does leave most of the opportunities for game-changing improvements out of your choices. If you just watch the ball, you're missing too many signals, perceptions of cause/effect relationships, behavioral cues. As it explains in the Management by Baseball book, you have to do continual OMA (Observe, Measure, Analyse") and then redesign your responses in response to what is changing in your environment, because in a competitive line of work, the environment is never static (and that means optimal decisions are givens, merely momentary advantages).

As the epigramme at the top of this essay says, preparation sets you up to make high- speed improvisations that have a foundation in hard facts and observed patterns.

It would be hard to do worse as a human than Billy Martin. But in spite of those attributes (and they had nothing to do with it) he was a magnificent manager of tasks and human capital and his lessons are worth following

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