In the 2011 film Moneyball, Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Facing a tight budget and limited player options, Beane turns to analytics to build a winning team.
The leadership lessons from Moneyball surround how Beane led the organization through radical change to pull off his plan. The “way we always do things” was no longer OK. And he faced resistance from his scouts, the team manager, and even the players. When viewed in the light of organizational transformation, Moneyball has lessons to teach that apply to business and leadership. Here are three of them.
Leading Change is Lonely
One of the things that surprised me the most as I took on progressively higher leadership roles was how lonely I became. Early in your leadership career, you have leadership peers in the organization. You can talk, commiserate and even find ways to help each other. But the higher you progress in your career, the fewer peers you have around you until you are in charge. You’re surrounded by people but will never feel so alone.
In Moneyball, Billy Beane was incredibly lonely. Some due to challenges in his life, some intentionally. He even tells Peter Brand that he can’t get close to the players because someday he may fire them. And I understand that because I felt the same way. I got to know my team, but I could never bring myself to build friendships with them.
Some emotional separation is necessary to make the tough decisions you are sometimes called upon to make. But, as leaders, we must balance that with empathy and respect. Billy’s approach to those decisions lacks heart, but he does try to treat them respectfully while doing it (except for Jeremy Giambi, but he probably deserved it).
Billy Beane had a challenge. How could he win big with one of the smallest payrolls in baseball? He was at a loss until he saw the Indian’s management deferring to a young wunderkind (Peter) in meetings. Billy digs in and finds that Peter is creating a new approach to building baseball rosters. And Billy sees the possibilities.
As leaders, we need to see the possibilities of new approaches. We can’t get trapped in the mentality of “we’ve always done it that way.” Leaders always need to be looking forward to what’s next. What is the better way? And when we get a hold of that vision, we need to drive it along in our organizations. Now, I take exception to Billy’s approach. He decided he would ram it down everyone’s throats (more on that later). Great leaders know how to communicate a new vision and get their team on board. We should strive to bring everyone with us then, only if necessary, pull them along.
Leaders Make the Hard Calls
The final lesson on leadership from Moneyball is that leaders must make hard decisions. Billy missed an opportunity to communicate his vision to his team, but he was committed to it. And as the leader, he expects his team to come along with him. But they don’t. In particular, his head of scouting and the team manager are deadset against the new vision.
No matter how good a leader you are, sometimes you can’t get everyone to go along with your vision. This leaves you with only a few options. The first is to try and bring them along. You can coax and cajole; sometimes, they will come alongside you and see the vision. Billy tried this approach with the team manager Art Howe. But ultimately, Art wasn’t having it, so Billy went with the next option. He forced his hand by trading away or sending down the players. Art was using to get around the new vision.
In the case of Grady Fuson, Billy took the final option. He fired him. And sometimes that’s necessary, especially when someone on your team actively and openly resists the new vision.
Leadership is a lonely road. A crucial duty of the leader, and the most difficult, is innovation. Those who refuse to change with the times are destined for failure. Leaders must be willing to make tough decisions and take risks to thrive in this unpredictable world–even when they’re not famous or well-liked.
Leaders of change are often lonely, but it’s a price they pay for innovation. Billy Beane had to make hard calls and face resistance from those comfortable with the status quo. If you feel that tug to lead change in your organization, I want to help you succeed. Set up an introductory call with me so we can discuss how you can be a leader of a transformation in your business. The power to drive change is inside you! Let’s work together to bring it out.