Guest Post: What We As Leaders Can Learn From The Legendary New York Yankees Skipper.
By Loyd McIntosh
Joe Torre, the legendary manager of the New York Yankees in the 1990s and early 2000s was a different kind of leader. For decades, the Bronx Bombers, under the iron grip of irascible owner George Steinbrenner, was led by a revolving door of hotheads, oddballs, also-rans, none of whom could get the Yanks back to their winning ways. From 1979 until 1995, 11 different men managed the Yankees, many of them hired, fired, and rehired more than once – sometimes during a single season. Not surprisingly, the Yanks went through the worst dry spell in the club’s history – 17 years without a World Series title.
Torre was hired as the Yankees skipper in 1996 to, let’s just say, underwhelming fanfare. With a mediocre managerial track record with the Mets, Braves, and Cardinals, most observers thought Torre had no chance of turning the Yankees into contenders, a headline in the New York Daily News going as far as calling him “Clueless Joe.” What few failed to realize was Torre’s emergence as a new type of leader, one that would lead the Yankees to four World Series titles between 1996-2000. Yes, the Yankees were loaded with talent during that era, but it was Torre’s management style that was the true difference.
So, what were the factors that made Torre so effective? I think we can break his leadership style down into three parts, each of which carries lessons all leaders, whether you’re on the ball field or the boardroom, can learn from.
Winning Is The Result – Not The Goal
Make no mistake, under Steinbrenner, World Series championships were the expected result. However, Torre didn’t use his boss’s demands as a reason to berate or threaten his players with trades or exile to the minor leagues. Torre knew winning was a destination reached by focusing on other goals and accomplishments along the way. “Competing at the highest level is not about winning. It’s about preparation, courage, understanding and nurturing your people and heart,” Torre is quoted as saying. “Winning is the result.”
In business, profit is the marker of success, but leaders can’t let sales goals, for instance, be the primary focus. Connecting with those you lead on a personal level, encouraging their development, and setting clear and consistent metrics all help develop a dynamic team that can handle any challenge you throw at it.
Loyalty During A Slump
Everyone – even top performers – goes through a slump once in a while. Those are the moments and periods where nothing seems to go right no matter how hard you’re working or trying. While it’s always a good idea to take stock of yourself when things are going wrong, knowing your leader is in your corner during those times is crucial. Loyalty and friendship during those slumps were a hallmark of Torrie’s leadership and his players took notice.
“Competing at the highest level is not about winning. It’s about preparation, courage, understanding and nurturing your people and heart,”Joe Torre
For instance, Former Yankees superstar Paul O’Neill once said about Torre, “Joe doesn’t put added pressure on you or act differently toward you because you’re not hitting well or playing well. Players pick up on these things.” Additionally, Yankees pitcher Mike Stanton was once quoted as saying, “With Joe, you really don’t have to look over your shoulder, because you’ll lose confidence in yourself long before Joe loses confidence in you. He’ll say, ‘I remember what you did for me. I remember what you did for this organization.’”
Those in your charge need to know you’re rock solid on their wide when those slumps come – and they will. If you have an employee who has been successful in the past and they still have a good work ethic and attitude, they will be again. Slumps don’t last, but you’re loyalty should.
Cool Under Pressure
Torre was famous for diffusing Steinbrenner’s tirades during his tenure with the Yankees. By contrast, Billy Martin, the Yankees’ off-and-on manager during the 1970s-1980s, was hired and fired by Steinbrenner five times over the course of a dozen years and was a cancer in the locker room. Fights in the clubhouse and in local bars, arguments over playing time and fickle player management, and dirty laundry aired in New York newspapers were common during Martin’s tenure. Torre, however, displayed a calm demeanor when arguments with the owner – and some players – occurred and kept most of that hidden from the players. Stanton again: “I’m sure there are a lot of times where [Torre caught] a lot of flak from Mr. Steinbrenner about how we’re playing. But we never hear about it.”
Additionally, despite being tossed from a game 66 times – good for 11th all-time among major league managers – ejections were quite rare for Torre over his lengthy career. By contrast, Atlanta’s Bobby Cox, his main rival during the 1990s and 2000s, is the all-time ejections leader with 161. In case you’re wondering, Torre won four World Series rings compared to only one for Cox during the same time period.
We’re all prone to lose it from time to time – we’re human after all – but the lesson here is simple: when it comes to business, family issues, and life in general, staying cool and calm under immense pressure will help your team achieve great things over the long run.
Loyd McIntosh is a freelance writer and a marketing and communications professional. Loyd has written for more than 30 newspapers, magazines, and websites and is currently the Marketing Manager for Automation Personnel Services, a staffing agency based in Birmingham, Alabama.