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Alaina Love
Leadership author

Alaina Love

Alaina Love is co-author, with Marc Cugnon, of The Purpose Linked Organization and co-founder of Purpose Linked Consulting.

Bully in the dugout

Q: George Steinbrenner violated just about every rule of the leadership handbook, yet he brought tremendous success to the NY Yankees, both on and off the field. What does this say about the conventional wisdom on leadership?

I can still vividly remember Tom Hank's performance as Jimmy Dugan, the bombastic, arrogant coach in the baseball movie, A League of Their Own. He must have been channeling George Steinbrenner, in the now classic scene with Dugan nose-to-nose with a distraught player, screaming at the top of his lungs: "There's no crying in baseball!!!!" The Dugan character and unfortunately, George Steinbrenner, were poster children for how not to lead.

Steinbrenner had money-- and lots of it--combined with a desire to own a winning team (with the emphasis on own). What he lacked was an understanding of how to capture both the hearts and minds of his players in a way that leveraged their innate talents. He could pay staggering sums of money for the most gifted players, who might contend with his leadership flaws for some time, simply because of their love for the game and the fact that their bank accounts were well padded. But this is not so for all of the Yankee's best talent.

Some years ago, I had the good fortune to meet and come to know Dave Winfield while we were working on a community project. David was the player representative, and he often clashed with Steinbrenner, who in turn, exercised every opportunity to belittle this talented outfielder and power-hitter, one who has since earned a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

While David was thoughtful in his reflections about working under Steinbrenner, it is clear that the Steinbrenner management philosophy of tirades, fear, intimidation and humiliation robbed the game of its fun for the players. As a result, he likely got less from his players than he might have otherwise. In today's terminology, we might have labeled Steinbrenner a workplace bully.

A primary foundational aspect of leadership is respect for those under your direction, a quality sorely absent in the Steinbrenner playbook. Can you bully people into giving you results? Sure. But, will you have their ongoing commitment to perform flawlessly time and time again? Unlikely. Steinbrenner was a character to be sure, but he was far from inspirational as a leader. It's not just getting results, but how you obtain them that matters.

What leaders can learn most from George Steinbrenner is what doesn't work for the long term, especially in the business world. To truly evoke top performance from employees leaders might strive instead to model following the characteristics:

• Be Authentic vs. Phony so that your words, actions and beliefs are consistent

• Be Reliable vs. Erratic so that priorities and goals are not constantly shifting and confusing the workforce

• Be Anchored rather than Disconnected so that you are connected to contemporary trends and issues that impact your organization's culture.

• Be Driven by Purpose and Passion vs. Driven by Power and Fear so that you achieve results by creating a vision through which others can become inspired.

• Be Optimistic vs. Pessimistic so that you search for the best each individual can offer rather than center attention only on their flaws. Choose to focus on both how and why an individual and the organization will be successful.

• Be Self-aware vs. Unconscious. Understand your own strengths, vulnerabilities, flaws and blind spots so that you learn to leverage the best of your qualities, and help others do the same.

• Be Inclusive vs. Divisive by valuing the input of others and seeking out opinions from a widely diverse base.

• Be Focused on Others vs. Self-Absorbed, by recognizing that two important priorities of every leader are to create a positive working environment for others and leave a legacy that benefits the business over the long term (rather than trading the future for a short-term gain).

• Be Respectful vs. Manipulative by appreciating the importance of treating employees at all levels with dignity. Insist that any implemented programs or processes are consistent with this core value.

• Work to Grow Other Leaders vs. Demanding Followers by appreciating that the future of any organization is directly related to successfully developing individuals who become even better leaders than those who precede them.

By Alaina Love

 |  July 16, 2010; 1:16 PM ET
Category:  Sports Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Medal of Honor: It's never too late to honor a fallen hero | Next: Steinbrenner: Getting the best at any cost


Please report offensive comments below.

Not to speak badly of those who have passed on, but Steinbrenner got results with a deep wallet, commando leadership and nasty tactics. He's an example, as this article suggests, of everything one shouldn't do as a leader. Yes, his team won some World Series pennants, but at what cost to the players??

Posted by: LoriD1 | July 17, 2010 12:26 AM
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