Over the weekend, I rewatched Moneyball. Have you ever noticed how you can watch the same movie multiple times and get something completely different from it? Well, that happened to me this weekend. I watched the film through the lens of leadership and took away three key lessons for leaders that I want to share.

Leadership Lesson 1: It’s 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 it is just you 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 empathy, but he does try to treat them with respect while doing it (except for Jeremy Giambi, but he probably deserved it).

Leadership Lesson 2: Innovate

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 Indians management deferring to a young wunderkind (Peter) in meetings. Billy digs in and finds out that Peter is creating a whole 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 just 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 with it. We should strive to bring everyone with us then, only if necessary, pull them along.

Leadership Lesson 3: 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 and 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 used to getting 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 is actively and openly resisting 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.

Leadership Lessons don’t need to be hard-earned. I can help. If you want to be a better leader, set up a time to chat about your leadership style. I look forward to hearing from you!

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