The Mastery of Leadership: A Reminder from Baseball

Recently the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in baseball.  As the drama was unfolding Alex Cora, the manager of the Red Sox, received much praise for the quality of his decision making.   Alex Speier of the Boston Globe wrote an article (October 26, 2018) about it.

His source was the professional agent, Scott Boras.  Boras has known Cora for a long time.  He believes Cora has created an entirely new discipline and he calls it Coralytics.

Baseball has transformed and it is now heavily influenced by statistical analysis.  The Red Sox are among the leaders in this trend.  They make great amounts of data available to Cora who appreciates and uses the data.

Yet Boras points out that Cora also has another side, a deep appreciation for the culture of baseball and the personalities and needs of his players.  He reads real cues that others do not notice.  He combines analytics with intuitive feel and the demonstration of concern.  Boras suggests that Cora thus maintains a synergy between the use of analytic numbers and the psychology of his players.

Boras argues that Cora sees the numbers, sees the situation, and sees the player and makes unique decisions in real time.  Sometimes he even sees a human factor that leads him to go against the numbers.  A prime example was the decision to stick with Jackie Bradley Jr, despite the fact that through the whole first half of the season, Bradley produced horrendous numbers.  Cora was sure the Bradley would recover.  Bradley did recover and he made a big difference.

Cora’s success is tied to his capacity to differentiate and integrate.  He can work from numbers, he can work from deep intuition, and he can work from both simultaneously.  Knowing how to integrate them is a form of mastery and Boras calls it Coralytics.

I love the description, but the insight is not new.  For a long time science has indicated that the very best leaders operate from both sides of their brains.  Managers do not become leaders until they evolve.  Effective leaders are high on task analysis and pursuit and they are also high on human sensitivity and support.  They see the realities of measurement and they see the realities of human possibility.  They make decisions and hold conversations that lead to the realization of possibility.

In similar article on Cora, Tim Keown of ESPN writes the following.  “And yet there are no numbers to ascertain the importance of a manager’s spirit, and the way his humanity can embolden and inspire his players. Asked whether he ever gets angry with his players — in other words: Is your calm exterior an elaborate lie? — he said, ‘No, I don’t. I talk to them. If I have something to tell them, I just sit with them. Casual, very casual. I try to have good conversations.’”

 

Reflection

  • In your leading how much emphasis in on numbers (task) and how much on people?
  • Why are the best leaders high on task and high on people?
  • What could you do today, to create better conversations?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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