The Boston Red Sox thought bringing in a confident and successful manager to restore order to its clubhouse that was in disarray, would help it reach the goal of winning a third championship within a decade.

Instead, what it got was a team leader who created more problems — something everyone in the business world can appreciate.

Bobby Valentine was hired as Red Sox manager after ownership fired its two-time World Series champion manager Terry Francona for losing control of the clubhouse and too many losses, in 2011. Valentine’s first order of business was to attempt to change the culture by not allowing pitchers to drink beer in the clubhouse during games on their off nights (something they did under Francona). Valentine also wanted to hold players more accountable, by openly-criticizing their performances at press conferences — something that failed to inspire his team.

And, the players who took advantage of Francona’s hands-off approach, moved further away from their current manager, due to his abrasive style. More importantly, they didn’t win for Valentine, either – the team posted its worst record in almost 50 years, in 2012.

So, Valentine was out after just a year on the job. Additionally, the team significantly reduced its payroll by dispatching some of its big name players, and going into rebuilding mode. There is little doubt that player injuries and underperformances among key contributors played a hand in the team’s fall in the standings, but the team’s biggest problem was an appalling lack of leadership, direction and morale.

Valentine was brought on to handle players’ massive egos with kid gloves, while leading with his great baseball mind. Instead, his reputation for losing one job after another, caught up to him.

Cultural Shift

Business experience influences organizational culture. And, corporate cultures, although relatively stable, are influenced by organizational learning, training programs and environmental events. The Boston Red Sox determined that Valentine’s power culture, one of four prototypical cultures, was not going to work since it allowed the power to be centralized leaving the players with low morale and lacking ownership of decisions.

Valentine’s departure brought in even-keeled John Farrell, who the Red Sox traded away a pitching coach to acquire from division rivals, the Toronto Blue Jays. Farrell’s primary objective was to bring stability to an historic franchise that was in shambles. He was well-respected from the day he was hired mainly because he was familiar with much of the personnel and his reputation in the game — preparing for every possible outcome and ensuring success.

Farrell immediately instilled a person/support culture where the players’ personal growth and development were treated as equally important as the Red Sox’s business objectives (bringing some much needed stability to an historic franchise). This culture tends to be long term in focus, expecting to realize the human investment over a long period of time. Additionally, decision making tends to be collective and based on multiple needs of the people and business.

A Method to the Madness

Farrell asked his players to be relentless from day one, resulting in them showing up to work hours ahead of schedule and helping build a strong culture. Leadership experts agree that the stronger the culture, the more impact it can have on employee commitment and performance.  A weak culture tends to be seen as arbitrary, and may evoke compliance but less commitment.

Farrell overcame the stigma once associated with former pitching coaches-turned-managers to become the first such skipper to reach the World Series stage. Additionally, he exceeded ownership expectations and managed his team to a third championship this century.

Farrell’s managerial skills are something the business world can learn from. And, don’t think that leaders haven’t taken notice.

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