Joe Torre's Ground Rules for Winners: 12 Keys to Managing Team Players, Tough Bosses, Setbacks, and Successby Joe Torre, Henry Dreher
This BusinessWeek, Wall Street Journal Business, and New York Post bestseller is now in paperback!"
Joe Torre is not only a winner but a man who exemplifies leadership for the new millennium. Great book that's on the money."Rick Pitino, bestselling author of Success Is a Choice
With three World Series Championships under his/b>/b>/b>/b>… See more details below
This BusinessWeek, Wall Street Journal Business, and New York Post bestseller is now in paperback!"
Joe Torre is not only a winner but a man who exemplifies leadership for the new millennium. Great book that's on the money."Rick Pitino, bestselling author of Success Is a Choice
With three World Series Championships under his belt in four years, who better to give advice on managing than the most beloved and successful manager of the New York Yankees, Joe Torre? With entertaining stories from his experiences with the always colorful Yankees, he reveals the twelve keys to his successful management philosophy keys directly applicable to business and to life, from how to handle tough bosses to earning the trust and respect of your team players."
Perhaps more than any other manager, Joe Torre understands that success is the product of hard work, patience, a little luck, and maintaining perspective."Cal Ripken, Jr., Baltimore Orioles
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Read an Excerpt
On the eve of the New York Yankees' 1998 World Series triumph, I was having dinner with my wife, Ali, when I asked a question that sometimes pops into my head about my recent good fortune in baseball. "Why me?"
I asked this question because I could not fully grasp my good luck. When George Steinbrenner hired me to manage the Yankees in 1996, I had been in baseball for over three decades as a player and manager. I had never once been to the World Series without buying a ticket. I had hardly ever come close. I had just been fired from my job as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, the third firing in my fifteen-year managerial career. I thought I would never manage again.
Here it was, October 1998, and I was on the verge of steering the Yankees to their second world championship in three years. My team had broken the American League record for most wins in a season. The next day we would complete a sweep of the San Diego Padres, to finish the year with a record of 12550. No baseball team had ever won 125 games. I had been privileged to lead a remarkable group of men. They played the entire season with dedication, professionalism, and relentless passion. These guys had more heart than any group I had ever seen.
Why me? Why did George Steinbrenner pick me when I thought my career had been finished? I wondered if the good Lord didn't think I could appreciate my blessings until now. But I also thought about my entire career in baseball--how I had gotten to this moment, and what it all meant. I had become a manager because I love baseball and felt that I had leadership skills. When I came so close to the end of my managing career, I thought perhaps it wasn't meant to be. But my success with the Yankees helped me to realize what I have to offer as a leader. I've had to acknowledge that my success occurred for a reason: my philosophy and beliefs worked. My years of dedication, learning, and growing had paid off. I know that I was fortunate to have a great group of players in both championship seasons of 1996 and 1998, and when we came up short in 1997. No manager can win without players. Yet it was a perfect match, one that allowed me to make the best use of my knowledge, skills, and judgment with people.
Why me? Perhaps I was not only lucky, but I was also being rewarded for doing something right, for sticking to principles of management I had believed in throughout my career.
I decided to write Ground Rules for Winners to share my philosophy of management and motivation. I have broken it down into a series of twelve simple "keys" that anyone can follow to become a more effective team player, manager, or executive. I know that these keys work, because they represent everything I have put into practice in my four years as skipper of the Yankees. I have seen players raise their game, and my team as a whole perform at a level of excellence no one would have imagined.
The twelve keys have worked for me, and I am certain they will work for any executive or manager in the corporate world. They offer as much to employees--the "team players" at all levels of an organization. For instance, Key #2 teaches fairness, respect, and trust as the basis for productive business relationships. These are lessons for everyone, since both managers and employees need to offer each other fairness, respect, and trust. It's always a two-way street.
I tell kids and young players at every level that winning is a by-product of getting the most out of your ability. Don't stop believing in yourself because you haven't yet been rewarded with that brass ring. If I had stopped believing in myself, I never would have been able to guide a great team to its great accomplishments. I never would have realized my lifelong dream of making it to the World Series. It took me 4,272 games as a player and a manager to finally get there, the longest wait for anyone in the history of the game.
Given this background, I can safely say that I understand the value of patience, optimism, and commitment. It's why I can tell people to hold on to their dreams and convictions without sounding like a walking clich. I also have come to understand how we can remain positive and calm in the face of short- and long-term setbacks. The twelve keys give you practical ways to deal with the toughest obstacles you'll face as a manager or team player.
I teach not only how to handle setbacks, but also success. In my opening speech at spring training in 1999, I told my players not to measure themselves against the year before. Someone will break Mark McGwire's home-run record long before a team wins 126 games. "Don't shoot for the same record," I said. "Just shoot for the same preparation." As the 1999 season continues, it has not been easy for my team to deal with the pressure of so much success. It took almost half a season before they seemed to leave behind comparisons to their record-breaking '98 season.
Ground Rules for Winners also includes a complete section on dealing with tough bosses. I have had my share of tough bosses as a manager, including George Steinbrenner, principal owner of the Yankees. George's reputation preceded him, yet we have developed a most productive and satisfying work relationship--one that has contributed to the Yankees' success. People ask, "How did you do that?" I provide answers in this section, and I use my experiences as the basis for practical advice on how anyone can work effectively with a tough boss.
During spring training of 1999, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. This time I did not ask the question, "Why me?" The only question I have considered is "Why not me?" Some people are going to get this disease, and I don't see why I should be exempt. Sandy Koufax called me at home after my diagnosis, and I jokingly said, "Now I know why all those bloop singles fell in last year."
I have tried to remain philosophical about my diagnosis, but I have also been frightened and had quite a few sleepless nights. But I've learned that many of the keys to handling challenges at work are just as valuable in life. Serenity, optimism, resilience, steadiness, and commitment are among the qualities I have tried to sustain. I hope that anyone with a serious illness will find some strength and comfort in my advice on how to deal with setbacks.
It's been very gratifying that the philosophy I have always held dear has been acknowledged for its effectiveness. It represents the values I cherish--respect, trust, integrity, and commitment to our work and the people with whom we share our lives. I offer it here in the hope that it will enable you to realize dreams you never thought possible.
Know Your Team Players
What is success? Is success winning? Cutting the deal? Maximizing profits? Collecting awards? Winning the ball game? Capturing the championship?
Depending on your line of work, success can be any or all of these things. But in my book, success and winning are not always one and the same. Perhaps it will seem odd that here I am insisting, in a book called Ground Rules for Winners, that you can succeed without winning. To me, success is playing--or working--to the best of your ability. And winning is a by-product of living up to your highest standards for yourself, getting the most out of your natural talents, reaching down and rooting out your own drive, courage, and commitment. In other words, if you succeed in realizing your own abilities, the chances that you'll be a winner in objective terms--with all the rewards--are maximized.
Don't get me wrong, winning is a valid goal. It is the pot of gold at the end of the journey, no matter how short (one game) or long (a whole season or year). But success should be your daily focus. You can't win every day, but you can succeed in fulfilling your potential as an individual and a team member.
That's why baseball is such a perfect metaphor for life. In football, for example, a season of sixteen wins and no losses is conceivable--it's been done. In baseball, you're considered a wild success if you lose fewer than 60 games in one season. In 1998, my players, coaches, and I woke up with that gnawing feeling of defeat on fifty mornings, yet this was the year in which we broke the major league record for most victories (125) in a season. Baseball's 162-game schedule--the "grind" I have known for thirty-two years--is in fact much closer to the daily lives of most people. You get up every morning, do your best, make small steps forward, suffer setbacks that obscure your long-term progress, fight off hassles and absurd obstacles, and once in a blue moon, you actually achieve a cherished goal that's been the stuff of your dreams. Then, with the world's permission, you can call yourself a winner. But only you know how many small triumphs and snarls went into that big victory, how many months, years, or decades of sweat and sorrow preceded that breakthrough. That's baseball, and that's life.
My belief that success and winning are not one and the same may buck current trends in motivational thinking. But I speak largely from my own experience, as a player and manager who has played 4,272 games before making it to the World Series. As a manager prior to coming to the Yankees, my win-loss record was 119 games below .500. If in my own mind and heart I had defined success purely as winning, I might have seen myself as a failure. Although I've had periods of self-doubt, and times when I did not live up to my own high expectations, I never gave in to the idea that I was somehow a failure. Had I done so, I might have completely stopped believing in myself and the possibility of realizing my dream--a World Series championship as a player or manager.
Why should you distinguish between success and winning? First, you don't want to hang your whole identity on the hook of winning. If you do, you could totally sabotage yourself. In a team sport--and in life, for that matter--you can maximize your talents and still lose because you lack the teammates or resources or commitment from upper management that give you the best shot at winning. In
all my years as a manager with the Mets, Braves, and Cardinals, I never had the "horses," as top-flight players are called, to help get our team to the big dance. I never fell for the illusion that I'd done a perfect job. Nor did I blame others. I simply made a realistic assessment of my situation, and concluded that it wasn't all my fault. I refused to write myself off as a major league manager with the potential to win a world championship. I wasn't sure it would ever happen, but I knew that I had the ability to make it, given the right circumstances. Once you brand yourself a loser, you'll never maintain the level of drive and optimism necessary to keep working hard, to pursue your goals with unwavering passion and intensity.
Second, if you're a player who focuses on realizing your abilities, or a manager who focuses on helping your team players to realize their abilities, you've got your priorities straight. Rather than living and dying by your latest win-loss record, or whether you've made it to the top of the heap that year, you concentrate on the day-to-day realities of being the best you can be--as an individual and a team member.
How do you make it happen? As an individual, you work relentlessly on the fundamentals of the game--whatever your game may be. In baseball, that means honing your fielding skills, making smart adjustments at the plate, and practicing basics like bunting, hitting behind the runner, and baserunning. In business, it may mean developing an outstanding prospectus, crunching numbers correctly, or perfecting the art of the deal. As a team member, you care about your teammates, and treat others with professionalism and respect so that you develop cohesion as a group. You may not love the people you work with, but you have to cooperate with one another in order to build a sense of collective faith in your ability to win.
All this leads me to the first key to managing team players, setbacks, and success: Know your team players. If you're a team player, this means knowing yourself and your teammates as you work to get the most out of your talents. (Throughout this book, I will use "team player" to mean anyone who works for an organization, whether it's sports or business.) If you're a manager, this means knowing the men and/or women you are trying to motivate in order to maximize their native abilities.
This chapter offers guidelines for knowing your team players--and yourself. It's a simple but profound rule--truly the first order of business for managers and workers alike. I offer my guidelines in these four sections:
1. Look into Their Eyes: Know Your Team Players
2. One-on-One: Make Time for Team Players
3. The Right Situation: Enable Players to Succeed
4. Look to Yourself: Know Your Skills, Limits, and Potential
We can never win unless we succeed in realizing our skills, and we can never realize our skills unless we know ourselves and the people we work with. Through my years of experience in baseball, I've embraced the idea that self-knowledge and knowledge of others is the launchpad for success and its by-product, winning.
Look into Their Eyes: Know Your Team Players
It's been said of me that as Yankee manager I have been able to bring many distinct personalities together into a cohesive unit. If I've succeeded in doing so, the key has been knowing my team players. By know, I mean several things: I know their skills. I know their potential. To some extent, I know their personalities. I try to know their needs as players and as people.
All these dimensions are significant. Some managers believe they only need to know their players' abilities so they can find the right slot for them in the field of play. That's essential, but I don't think it's enough. You have to take the pulse of your players, so you know who needs in-depth personal attention and who doesn't, who needs coaching and who doesn't, who needs a private dialogue with you and who doesn't, who you can count on in tough spots and who you can't. To develop this level of knowledge about your team players, you need some insight into their personal and emotional qualities. I'm not saying that managers should be psychics or psychotherapists. Nor do you have to be friends with your players, though friendships often grow out of the collective pursuit of a common goal. But you must be able to sense where your players are coming from--who they are and what kind of managerial attention will bring out the best in them.
A good example is Paul O'Neill, my right fielder since I came to the Yankees in 1996. Paul is the ultimate high-strung perfectionist. When he's not hitting well, he goes into an angry funk, often slamming his bat or his helmet after a tough at-bat. Even when he is hitting well, he may grimace or mouth private thoughts following a single unproductive turn at the plate. We know to leave Paul alone when he paces the dugout muttering to himself. On the broadcast for opening day of 1999, baseball commentator Tim McCarver said that for Paul O'Neill, "Every at-bat is Armageddon."
Now for some ballplayers, this kind of behavior is a worrisome sign. Many guys in prolonged slumps become frayed at the edges, and their anger at themselves festers until they lose all rhythm and poise at the plate. That rarely happens to Paul. Because I know him, I understand that Paul's frayed edges are different from those of other players. His high-strung behaviors are habits, not signs of serious trouble. Paul won't stay cold for long; he'll recover his timing, and his swing, often in a clutch situation. He'll usually work his way out of a slump without help from anyone, though he may sometimes make a batting adjustment. (During 1999 spring training, Paul was slumping when he received a phone call from Ted Williams, arguably the greatest pure hitter in the history of the game. Williams is a big fan of O'Neill, and he called with a minor but apparently useful bit of hitting advice.)
On one occasion, though, Paul had an emotional reaction to an event that was different from his usual flashes of anger at himself. It occurred at a pivotal point in the 1996 World Series, a moment where every decision I made seemed to have a life-or-death element. We'd been soundly beaten by the formidable Atlanta Braves in our first two games in Yankee Stadium, and were pronounced dead in the water by most of the sports media. But we came back to tie the series by winning two pressure-packed games at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, including an unforgettable comeback win in Game Four. As we approached Game Five, I had to decide who to play in several key positions. We'd be facing the Braves's exceptional right-handed pitcher, John Smoltz, so logic dictated that I play left-handed hitters Wade Boggs at third base, Tino Martinez at first, and Paul O'Neill in right field. I chose Charlie Hayes over Boggs, because Hayes had been getting big hits and he had a good record against Smoltz. Tino had been struggling at the plate, and in his place I had successfully used Cecil Fielder, who'd been getting clutch hits throughout the postseason. There was no compelling reason to switch back now. Paul had been bothered for weeks by a pulled leg muscle, and had not looked good at the plate. So I decided to play our veteran outfielder Tim Raines, as I had in our previous two wins, despite the fact that Raines hadn't been hitting much, either.
When I make such key decisions, I don't like to simply post the lineup without speaking first to my players who usually play every day (see chapter 3, Straight Communication: The Key to Trust). They deserve a face-to-face explanation. So I called each of them--Boggs, Martinez, and O'Neill--into my office, one by one. Boggs took the news reasonably well, but Martinez was obviously angry. Though he was our most productive hitter during the 1996 regular season, Tino lost his swing in the postseason, and when I told him I was going with Fielder he stalked out of my office, barely uttering a word.
O'Neill was next. I explained why I was playing Raines instead. He wasn't mad, like Tino. He was clearly hurt. He left my office, head down and shoulders slumped. Paul is such a fiery competitor that I was disturbed by his look of resignation.
A few minutes later, my bench coach, Don "Zim" Zimmer entered my office. "Paulie's down," he said. As I talked to Zimmer about the decision, it dawned on me that not playing Paul might affect his confidence for the remainder of the series, and I knew I might need him. Zimmer reminded me that Paul had played hurt most of the year, and hadn't been at the top of his game, yet he still gave the team everything he had. Raines was not batting well, either, so it had not been a clear-cut decision in which I owed it to the team to play Raines. I now felt I owed it to Paul to put him in the lineup. I said to Zim, "Let's play O'Neill."
Zimmer sent for O'Neill. When he walked into my office, I said, "You're playing." He was surprised but pleased. "That's what managers are allowed to do," I said. "Change their minds."
I never regretted changing my mind, even though Paul did not get a hit in Game Five. It was a heart-stopping pitchers' duel between Smoltz and our left-hander, Andy Pettitte. The score remained 10 through the bottom of the ninth, when Pettitte gave up a double to Chipper Jones, who moved to third on a grounder by Fred McGriff. I immediately brought in our closer, John Wetteland, who'd had a stellar year. Big John got Javier Lopez to ground out to Charlie Hayes, and Jones was held at third. We were one out away from taking an improbable lead in the World Series.
I had Wetteland intentionally walk Ryan Klesko, but after he did, Bobby Cox surprised me by sending Luis Polonia to pinch-hit instead of Terry Pendleton. Wetteland kept challenging Polonia with fastballs, who kept fouling them back, prolonging the agony. (Jose Cardenal, my first-base coach, noticed that Polonia was fouling balls to the left, so he moved Paul O'Neill toward center field.) Normally, John might have thrown a curveball into the mix, but he may have been fearful of a pitch in the dirt that could turn into a passed ball, allowing Jones to score the tying run. Finally, as Polonia saw another fastball coming, he knocked a fly ball to deep right-center field. The ball was hit out toward the warning track, but it looked playable, and I thought, There's the final out.
O'Neill ran toward the ball, but he appeared to step into a rough spot in the right-field grass, losing his balance for a moment. I remember thinking, either Paulie catches the ball and we go ahead in the series three games to two, or both runners score, we lose 21, and the Braves take a three-games-to-two lead. He was straining to run full speed on his bad leg, and as he reached the edge of the warning track, he made one last long stride with his arm fully outstretched. The ball landed in the brim of Paul's glove. We had secured the victory that brought us one win away from a world championship.
When I looked back on my change of mind, I felt as though I had been rewarded for trusting my instincts about playing Paul. He also contributed a key hit in Game Six at Yankee Stadium, a solid double to start a rally in the third inning. He scored the first run in what would be a 32 victory and a world championship for the 1996 Yankees.
Paul's reaction that day in my office was a signal that benching him could have had a serious downside--both for him and our club. The decision was based on an intangible: my read of his face and body language. But that, too, was based on knowing him as a unique individual. (We all recognize that different people's body language may mean different things: One friend's shrug could signal hurt while another's could mean disinterest.) That's why I tell managers in any field of endeavor, at any level in the organizational hierarchy, to know their team players. Don't dismiss this part of your job as secondary. In my view, it's primary--the foundation of your efforts to build teamwork and make right decisions.
Who can handle a tough middle-inning relief assignment? Who can deal with the pressure of pinch-hitting with two outs and the winning run on base in a postseason game? Who can you count on as a defensive replacement in the ninth, not only because he's a solid fielder but because you know he'll stay calm enough to make correct decisions? How can you help players to accept a backup role? If you don't know your team players, you won't have critical information at hand. It's a principle that holds in every business.
I recently spoke with Ken Venturi, the U.S. Open winner and golf analyst for CBS, about assessing people and their ability to handle pressure. "Always look in their eyes," said Venturi. "You'll see who they are, and what's special about them." Venturi was right, and it's something I've been doing for a long time. Some players can't look back at you, which tells you a lot about them. Not that they're bad players or lousy people who'll never come through in the clutch. Rather, they may be uncertain about themselves, and you need to take that into account. Such players often need more attention, and if you support them their confidence may blossom.
Looking in someone's eyes helps you figure out whether you can count on them in a crisis situation. In baseball, the classic example is the manager's trip to the mound to determine whether to replace a pitcher in a do-or-die situation. When you ask the general litmus question, "How are you feeling?" or the more specific ones, "How is your arm strength?" "How's the breaking ball?" or "Can you get the next batter?" you need an honest answer. If he can't look you in the eye when he says, "Fine," you can't be certain he's telling the truth.
But it's not just a player's truthfulness you can judge by looking in their eyes. Sometimes, you can see more, something about their character or their conviction. As Venturi said, you can see somebody special, and you need to know what's special about every one of your players in order to bring your team together to achieve a cherished goal.
One-on-One: Make Time for Team Players
What's involved in knowing team players? To know their abilities, you get reports from scouts and coaches, and closely observe them in practice and games. To know them as individuals, you need to look them in the eye. And you absolutely must make time for them. Sounds like a simple rule, but too many managers in too many walks of life only pay lip service to it.
Firstly, making time for team players enables you to appreciate them as individuals, which can definitely help you to get the most of their abilities. Secondly, it gives you opportunities to (1) let players know what you expect of them; (2) bolster their confidence; (3) answer their questions; and (4) offer support.
As I'll explain in chapter 3, I'm not big on team meetings--I prefer one-on-one sessions. I will hold hundreds of private discussions over the course of a single season, and these efforts are the basis of my motivational strategy. They may occur in my office, in the clubhouse by their lockers, on the field during practice, or on an airplane. It doesn't matter where the meeting occurs or how long it lasts. What matters is the quality of the exchange.
Private chats with your players should not feel like an obligatory routine. I suggest that you initiate them only "as needed," and only in circumstances where the door is open, so to speak. But when you do, use them for the reasons above--to better know your team players, and to use your communication skills to motivate them. Managers can use one-on-one meetings almost the way doctors use office visits --for both diagnosis and treatment.
One player who has benefited from private meetings is our second baseman, Chuck Knoblauch. Chuck is a hard worker who sets such lofty standards for himself that he occasionally tries too hard and stiffens in the field or at the plate. He was traded from the Minnesota Twins during the off-season, and when he joined our team in 1998 he was greeted with high expectations. We badly needed a reliable second baseman who could make a significant contribution on offense, and Chuck filled the bill. But it can be tough to come from such a small-market team to New York, with our intense media scrutiny and fans who never miss a trick. The pressure to make an impact right away, coupled with his own tendency to be hard on himself, led to some tough times for Chuck in his first season as a Yankee.
By the All-Star break, Knoblauch, a career .300 hitter, was batting only .258, and his fielding had become erratic, including a tendency to make wild throws to first on routine ground balls. Two games after the All-Star break, we had just beaten Tampa Bay when Chuck poked his head in my office and asked if we could meet the next afternoon. I said, "Why don't you come in right now?" I asked the crowd in my office to leave the room, and we spoke privately for half an hour.
We talked about what it meant to get acclimated to New York, what he expected of himself, and what we expected of him. I let Chuck know that I thought he was being tougher on himself than anyone else. I tried to allay his fears of any excessive expectations on our part. "My only expectation is that you play the way you play," I said. "The best way to achieve that is to be relaxed." While relaxing is often the key to optimal performance, it's never enough to tell someone to "just relax." Managers must create conditions in which team players can relax, and the best way is to offer ongoing guidance and reassurance. You don't have to hold their hands, you just have to make yourself available and be supportive.
Toward that end, I told Chuck about my time as a player that most closely mirrored his present circumstance. Before the 1969 season, I was traded from the Atlanta Braves to the Cardinals for Orlando Cepeda, a hugely popular and successful player in St. Louis. I put tremendous pressure on myself, wishing to impress everyone in the club (which included several superstars, such as Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Bob Gibson, and Steve Carlton), and live up to the high hopes fostered by the trade. I learned from that experience that trying to wow everyone while making impossible demands of yourself is a lethal combination--it only makes you tighten up more. You don't realize that this mind-set is totally counterproductive until much later, with the luxury of hindsight.
My conversation with Chuck helped us to know each other better, and I thought it set him at ease. His comfort level improved, and it showed in his play: He was more consistent in the field and more aggressive at the plate. During the next week, he hit home runs in three consecutive games. In the following two weeks, Chuck batted in 15 runs, slammed 6 homers, and made several sparkling plays at
second base. He developed a softer game--one of grace and
fluidity--rather than a clenched-jaw game. While he cooled off in the dog days of summer, he ended with respectable statistics, and he flourished in the World Series with a .375 batting average.
Here's my motto: Every employee must feel useful. In order to build teamwork, you must acknowledge each individual's worth, letting him know that his role, no matter how seemingly minor, is a vital cog in the team's efforts. When you grant your stars, your role-players, and everyone in between the same level of attention, you lay the groundwork for an unselfish team spirit, one where everyone belongs. I'm most proud of how the 1998 Yankees exemplified that team spirit; they left their egos behind and got the job done.
It's one thing to espouse the view that every team player must feel useful, but it's another to put it into practice. The only way is through the "make time" doctrine. Making time for team players is no panacea for their problems, but it's a fundamental rule of sound managing. It creates the space in which you can get to know them; let them know you; solidify trust; and resolve unspoken issues. Your one-on-one dialogues with team players are motivational building blocks--the basis for the creation of teamwork.
In the corporate world, with its increasing reliance on speedy high-tech solutions to every problem and the escalating demands of fierce (often global) competition, team players are under extreme pressure to work harder, longer, and more productively. (I always say that pressure is a given; deal with it rather than pretend it's not there.) These burdens can cause tension, burnout, and loss of creativity--something like the tightness ballplayers experience when they try too hard. Given the pressures on managers not only to supervise a work force but please higher-ups while answering countless questions and phone calls, it's not hard to understand why the "make time" doctrine is difficult to sustain. But good managers can help team players thrive under the toughest conditions by carving out time to communicate, reinforcing their importance to the team and its goals.
When you make time for employees, the quality of that time is also crucial. Managers must cultivate the ability to listen and sense what their team players are thinking and feeling. In his fine book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman makes this point forcefully, and I agree with him. One skill of emotional intelligence in the world of work is "understanding others." According to Goleman, people with this competence: (1) are attentive to emotional cues and listen well; (2) show sensitivity and understand others' perspectives; and (3) help out based on understanding other people's needs and feelings. On an instinctual basis, I've tried to follow these principles, and I can tell you that they work.
The Right Situation: Enable Players to Succeed
To get the most from the people you manage, you must put them in the right spot at the right time. I'm reminded of those TV lawyers who ask, "Did the suspect have the means, the motive, and the opportunity to commit this crime?" I want to make sure that my players have the means, the motive, and the opportunity to be winners. Opportunity is pivotal, and that means putting them in the right spot--giving them a chance to make the most of their talents.
Of course, every team has players who are totally secure in their positions--ace starting pitchers, star position players, reliable relief pitchers. I don't have to figure out what to do with our dazzling shortstop, Derek Jeter. Players like Derek establish themselves before you come on as manager, or they quickly establish themselves once you're on board. But there are many players--those platooned at a particular position, middle relievers, utility infielders, and pinch hitters--who do best in some situations and not in others. It's your job as manager to put them in situations in which they can succeed, and if you make sound decisions you give them the best chance to shine--and to help your team win. These "role-players" can be as important as your "stars," so this is crucial.
The "right spot" doctrine can be applied to any work environment--managers get the most from their talent by finding the best opportunities for each person and making sure everyone understands their importance to the organization. Likewise, employees succeed when they embrace their roles with professionalism, knowing that their contribution is vital for a winning team. But it's the manager's job to make sure that players are given optimal opportunities.
Everyone knows what author Tom Wolfe meant when he wrote his book about the astronauts of the 1960s and called it The Right Stuff. In my view, you won't have the right stuff if you're not in the right spot.
One Yankee who's shown he has the right stuff is Ramiro Mendoza. This soft-spoken right-hander has performed well in every role I've asked him to fill. He has ping-ponged from starter to middle reliever without losing his cool. Prior to the 1998 season, and at several other times during his tenure with the Yankees, there was talk within the Yankee organization about trading Mendoza, but I always argued against it. In his ability to make spot starts and then move right back to the bullpen for middle relief, he is very valuable. Others have done it, but few have done it as well as Ramiro. He's not recognized by the media as a star--few fans outside New York know much about him--but he's one of our most valuable contributors.
During 1998 spring training, Mendoza quickly emerged as the top choice for our fifth starting pitcher after David Cone, Andy Pettitte, David Wells, and Hideki Irabu. After getting off to a slow start in the regular season, Ramiro won three consecutive starts and found his comfort zone. When he's pitching well, Mendoza works fast and has pinpoint control. But he could not control fate, in the form of a Cuban defector who, legend has it, journeyed to this country on a rickety twenty-foot sailboat. That defector was Cuba's star pitcher, Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez. After a bidding war, we signed Hernandez and he joined us in spring training. He wasn't ready to start at the beginning of the season, so there was no question about Ramiro's selection. But fate intervened again when David Cone was bitten by his mother's Jack Russell terrier right on the ring finger of his pitching hand. We needed a replacement, so on June 3, I gave Hernandez his first opportunity to start. He was so effective, allowing only one run and five hits in a 71 victory over the Devil Rays, that I felt we had to let him continue as a starter. After Cone returned, El Duque replaced Mendoza in the regular rotation.
When I told Ramiro that El Duque was going to be one of our starters, he was openly unhappy. I explained that I didn't expect him to be thrilled with the decision, only to accept it. (I'd be wary of a player who had no negative reaction to being benched or taken out of the starting rotation.) But I emphasized that we selected him for the bullpen because he could perform better in relief than any of the other starters. Ramiro has the rare durability and flexibility to pitch well whenever he's called upon, for as many innings as we need him. He could do as much (or more) to help us win as a middle reliever, and I told him so.
Many pitchers would respond to this seeming demotion by letting themselves and their teammates down. While I know he was disappointed, Ramiro never allowed his emotions to interfere with his competitive drive; maybe he found a way to use them as fuel. (It would be hard to know, because he rarely shows his feelings.) His ERA as a starter was a decent 3.87; as a reliever, it was an outstanding 1.93. But Ramiro saved his best for the postseason, when he was a critical link in several victories on the road to our world championship.
Our greatest challenge in 1998 was the American League championship series against the Cleveland Indians, who had knocked us out of contention in the 1997 division playoffs. After winning the first game in the series, we lost two straight and had our backs against the wall for the first time in our record-breaking season. We fought back in Cleveland to win Games Four and Five, putting us up three games to two, and we returned to Yankee Stadium needing only one victory to get to the World Series. But Cleveland had the rattlesnake-like ability to strike at any time, and we'd been badly bitten in 1997 when they stole our chance to repeat our 1996 triumph. I wanted us to finish them off in Game Six, and we had David Cone on the mound, who had proven his ability to handle the thorniest postseason assignments.
Cone was cruising along with a shutout, staked to a 60 lead with the help of a third-inning, three-run blast by third baseman Scott Brosius. David had eight strikeouts and it looked like our American League championship would be a cakewalk. But he tired in the fifth, and the roof caved in. Three consecutive hits loaded the bases, and Cone walked David Justice to force home a run. He struck out Manny Ramirez, and the next batter was the dangerous Jim Thome. David tried to slip a slider under his hands, but the pitch hung over the middle of the plate. Thome hammered the ball into the upper deck in right field. His grand slam left us with a slim 65 lead, and a desperate need to stanch the bleeding.
I brought in Ramiro, who proceeded to shut down the Indians in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. I could not have asked for more, since I knew I could count on my phenomenal closer, Mariano Rivera, to finish the job in the ninth. During those three sparkling innings, Mendoza did not allow a single runner past first base. We got three insurance runs in the sixth, and went on to beat the Indians 95, enabling us to make our second trip to the World Series in my three-year tenure with the Yanks.
Meet the Author
Joe Torre clinched his second World Series as the manager of the New York Yankees in 1998, making him the toast of New York and the baseball world. He also managed and played for the Atlanta Braves, the New York Mets, and the St. Louis Cardinals, playing in the All-Star Game nine times. He won Manager of the Year awards in both 1996 and 1998.
Henry Dreher is a New York-based writer who specializes in health, psychology, and self-help. He has authored many books, as well as magazine articles and corporate speeches.
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