Manny Ramirez, Theo Epstein, and Leadership Do’s/Don’ts

Two posts on terminating top performers at HarvardBusiness.org (here and here) had my ears perked when I heard Theo Epstein, General Manager of the Boston Red Sox discuss the events in and around the Manny Ramirez trade.  Manny was, and still can be on occasion, one of the greatest right-handed bats in baseball history.  He does, however, have a unique attitude and deportment that is simply known as “Manny being Manny”.

I wondered how Theo would discuss what was, in essence, the termination of his top performer.  There is a lot to admire about his management style.  He’s not even 35, yet Theo is one of the more self-possessed, articulate, mature, and successful sport executives around.   Let me pass along a few “Theo’s do’s and don’ts” that I derived from the interview:

  • Don’t bad mouth past contributions — This makes one look bitter and foolish.  For goodness sakes, Manny averaged nearly 40 HR/110 RBI in a Red Sox uniform.
  • Do answer specific objections/questions with facts — That said, don’t let objections lie.  However, answer the objections with facts.  When Theo was asked about the secondary effects of losing Manny on David Ortiz, Theo could easily demonstrate that Ortiz’s production was unaffected by Manny’s previous absences.
  • Don’t, in the words of Theo, “parade around and tell people what’s going on behind the scenes, just to make ourselves look good“.  Too many sports leaders get caught up in trying to ensure everyone — fans, the media, and especially the players — knows that “they’re the boss”. 
  • Do keep “senior leaders” in the loop, even asking their advice when needed — When it does get serious enough, sometimes you’ll need to reach out to the team itself.  Apparently Theo and others quietly reached out to veteran players to see if things were really different with this “Manny being Manny” episode.
  • Don’t minimize the breach — All one has to do is be clear that things were different this time…respecting the first “don’t”.  No need to be graphic about the issues, but be as clear as possible that something has changed.
  • Do admit what could have been done better on one’s side — Again, an easy good will gesture to admit the obvious; the Red Sox could have handled the saga of Manny better at times.

Finally, do have some perspective.  Theo, with wry and dry humor, said he slept well after trading Manny (as opposed to his famous insomnia after his 2004 trade of another famous player, Nomar Garciaparra).  As Theo said, “We hadn’t won two World Series when we traded Nomar, had we”?

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One Response

  1. […] on August 10, 2008 by Paul Ritchie Since I riffed on Manny Ramirez and Theo Epstein earlier (here), let’s continue the baseball metaphor.  Scott Berkun drives a “hanger” a long […]

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