Monday, November 30, 2009

The Style Factor In Leadership

Whether you’re heading up a group at work, directing the global operations of a major corporation or managing a team of little league or pro athletes, your leadership style is often the critical factor in how successful you’ll be.

I was reminded of that a couple of weeks ago as I watched the NY Yankees parade up New York City’s Canyon of Heroes as the City honored them for capturing their 27th World Series title.

At the center of all the joy and jubilation stood Joe Girardi, the Yankees manager who led them to a phenomenally successful season and who basked in the glow of a job universally seen as well done.

Girardi was widely praised for blending the disparate personalities on this team of multi-millionaire superstars, including those newly added to the team, and creating an atmosphere among the players that recognized the maturity and wisdom of his veteran players along with the free-spirited nature of his younger talent.

What a difference a year makes

Interestingly, this was the same Joe Girardi who, a year earlier, had been castigated by the NYC press, for his failure to get the Yankees to the playoffs after 12 straight years of achieving that goal under his predecessor.

Too stiff, too aloof, too much of a disciplinarian screamed the media as Girardi failed to get the Yankees to the playoffs in 2008. They said his leadership style rubbed the veteran players the wrong way and was better suited to working with young and inexperienced players who needed the strong direction and authoritarian approach that he displayed.

His way or the highway

While it was widely acknowledged that he was a great tactician and a master baseball strategist it was often quoted that he could be prickly and difficult to get along with and lacked the skills needed to lead a team like the Yankees.

To back up their claim, the media pointed to his short stint as manager of the Florida Marlins in 2004, where, in spite of being named Manager of the Year for his work on the field, he was fired by ownership for his unwillingness to work well or get-along with the team’s top management.

They compared him to Tom Coughlin, another New York City sports leader, who as coach of the NY football Giants was famous for his command and control management style best exemplified by fining players who showed up 5 minutes early for meetings because he thought that was too late.

Never too old to change

And they reminded Girardi, that after consistently failing to get the Giants to the Promised Land, the 62 year old Coughlin, also recognized as a brilliant tactician, made a dramatic change in his management style by dropping his dogmatic approach and recognizing the individual needs of his players. It was that change that was cited as the key to the Giants victory in the 2008 Super Bowl and Coughlin’s own parade up New York City’s Canyon in February of that year.

It looks like the press might have been right because after the let down experienced by the Yankees in ’08, Girardi approached the 2009 season with a looser, more collaborative approach that in the parlance of the management gurus went from an authoritarian to a participative style of management.

His new found management style was credited with making the Yankees more relaxed, more focused and more productive.

The takeaway – functional expertise is important, leadership skills are an imperative.

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