A few years ago when the Chicago Cubs won the National League pennant, I wrote this post — not because I’m a Cubs fan but because I thought Joe Maddon showed a lot of leadership qualities. The Cubs went on to win the 2016 World Series. Since then, the Cubs have faded and Maddon has switched teams. But the leadership lessons endure. I’ve condensed the post to highlight those lessons more prominently.
In 2 minutes, Joe Maddon showed the difference between someone who’s a true leader and someone who does what’s expected in his role. It’s worth reviewing and thinking about for anyone in a leadership position.
Why Joe Maddon’s players love playing for him
Take a look at the TV interview that took place during the ceremony in which the Cubs organization was given the National League trophy following its win.
Normally in these situations, the manager immediately credits his bosses for making the victory possible. After all, not only are these the people who pay the manager’s salary, but they’re standing right next to him on a podium as the network’s cameras are trained on him. But that’s not what Maddon does.
After acknowledging the stadium crowd’s applause, Maddon directs his thanks not to the men in the sports coats, but to the Cubs players, telling the crowd to applaud them. Then he tells the crowd to applaud is his coaching staff – the guys who work directly below him.
Finally, he briefly acknowledges the three men who employ him while thanking the fans in the same breath.
Intelligence on display – emotional and otherwise
Maddon’s calm and relaxed as he does this — confident that it’s fine to be sincere and not genuflect to the powerful men sharing the stage with him. He just keeps answering the interviewer’s questions.
Maddon is credited with being one of the more innovative managers in baseball, breaking traditional approaches to in-game decision-making. He’s also known for his ability to earn his players’ trust.
But more than that, he’s shown them how to emulate his relaxed, don’t-overthink-things approach to the game. In another interview when he was asked about the pressure of pitching in such a momentous game, 26-year-old Cubs winning pitcher Kyle Hendricks sounded much like Maddon:
“I’m just trying to keep it simple, (have) simple thoughts,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s just like any other game. The stakes are a lot higher, but if you make good pitches, you’ll get guys out.”
What’s the lesson for leaders?
Joe Maddon is one of only a handful of people employed as a Major League manager. But the qualities he shows in this 2-minute video are ones that many of us can strive to emulate:
- Don’t let hierarchies rule your words and actions: Bad bosses undermine their subordinates’ confidence in them when they show they’re more interested in pleasing those above them than doing right by those who work for them. That doesn’t mean you have to thumb your nose at the C-suite. In fact, smart people in the upper ranks will appreciate any manager who is committed to her crew and their welfare.
- Give credit where credit is due. Other managers may have thanked their players and coaches in passing. But Maddon made it clear that he not only appreciated them, he knew his success depended on them. Don’t be that guy who seeks all the glory for himself. Ego displays are unattractive, and everyone sees through them.
- Find reasons for optimism by defying expectations. The Cubs have been expected to lose for a long time. The last time they got to a World Series was 1945. The last time they won one was 1908. Would you sense that Maddon is worried about those facts from this interview? We’re seeing what happens when a leader applies an innovative, positive attitude toward an organization that has been viewed with pessimism by millions of people for more than a century.
- Look beyond the obvious. Maddon literally does this by not thinking about just the television audience and his bosses, but his players, coaches and fans. Are you seeing people, events, trends and possibilities that deserve your attention, even if they’re not formally your responsibility?
- Be comfortable in your own skin. Corporate America has a legacy of conformity: Managers got ahead by adhering to the norms. But lately, organizations realize that they don’t get the best out of their leaders when those leaders are suppressing their own personalities and idiosyncrasies. If you know anything about Maddon, it’s that he is true to himself and his unique style. His bosses knew that when they hired him, so his actions on the podium post-victory won’t cause any hurt feelings. Ideally, you’re working in an organization that similarly wants you to be you. If not, maybe it’s time you join another team.