Leadership Lessons from Moneyball

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Moneyball is based on the true story of Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A’s Baseball team. Beane and his Assistant GM, Peter Brand learn that by hiring under-valued players, they could win with less than 40% of the budget of their competitors. In the 2001-02 season, the A’s achieved a 20 game winning streak – an all-time record.




Now, you may think it’s just another sports movie, and it is – a very good one at that – but if you look only that far when watching this film, then you’re going to miss out on half the story, if not all of it. This film is about passion, struggle and belief – it is also a master-seminar in strategy, team and project management, leadership, and problem solving.

Here just a few lessons learnt from the story:

Setting your Expectations

“My bar is to take this team to a championship.”

You must understand what you are hoping to achieve and level you’re aiming for.

If you don’t set a goal then you have no destination – if you don’t have a destination then you have no way of measuring success – if you have no way of measuring success then your team has not hope.

The best Leaders understand what they want and set the standards for achieving it. Billy Beane’s goal was to take the Oakland A’s to a championship and build a winning team. What are your expectations?

Dealing with Constraints

“There are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there is 50 feet of crap and then there’s us. It’s an unfair game.” 

“We’ve got to think differently.”

Beane had many constraints. The clubs owner controlled the budget; the team manager controlled the way the team played, and the players controlled their own behaviour.

Like Beane, you’re going to face some challenges and you’ll come across some negative people that lack the same ambition as you – dismissing change because ‘that’s how it’s always been done (here)’. If you’re trying to disrupt the status quo and at the same time, beat competitors that are much bigger and better funded, you’re not going to do it by copying what they do. You need to think differently. Using traditional methods when you’re at a disadvantage is a sure-fire way of losing the battle.

“I hate losing, more than I love winning”

Identify the Problem and Look for a Solution

“You’re not solving the problem. You’re not even looking at the problem.”

Identify the fundamental problem and then focus on solving the problem. Simple in theory. However, don’t get distracted by short term thinking, think about how you fix it in the long term and break it down to find the best solution.

Be careful, who you listen to… sometimes people that have been with the company longer than the furniture have a short sighted mentality, which can be more of a hindrance than a help. Figure out what the actual issue is, and solve it.

This video below is a great scene at the beginning of the movie, where Billy leads a scouting session to focus on the season ahead and what the team needs moving forwards.

Billy asks them to define the problem. “What is our problem?” he keeps asking one after the other. Every one of them fails to define what the ‘real problem’ is, because no one see’s past the hard facts, and because they all fail to grasp that unless they re-evaluate their current situation, they are going to continue the same pattern.

Defining a Strategy

“People who run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players. Your goal should be to buy wins. And to buy wins you must buy runs.”

Redefining problems to find new and fresh solutions is one of the most valuable lessons anyone can learn in management, business or elsewhere. We frequently hear strategists and company directors coining the phrase “If you’re always doing the same things, you’re always going to get the same results?”

Beane knew he had to change things because at the end of every season it was the same story – they were losing players to bigger teams and losing ground on the top teams. Beane selected a strategy he believed would work best for his team and put together a team of undervalued players to help him win with the strategy.

Your strategy may not be popular but sometimes that’s what you have to do to move forwards and succeed. How many teams step out of their comfort zones and risk it all for changing the game?

Selecting your Team

Whilst Oakland’s scouts were experienced, they did not see the game in a way that allowed them to compete – they were more interested in short term fixes than a long term solution. This led to Beane hiring an unknown Peter Brand to become his Assistant GM.

Once you have established your objectives, make sure you have a team that buys in to your ethos, supports you and can help develop your strategy. If someone’s not going to help you achieve your goals, than they may be part of the problem… and it might be time to let them go (or kindly redistribute elsewhere).

All managers should hear Billy explaining to Peter that firing players needs to be straightforward, without frills and be done with respect.

“Would you rather get a bullet to the head, or 5 to the chest and bleed to death?

If you’ve ever been tasked with letting someone go than you know how difficult it is, if you haven’t then you will learn more about the process watching this film than you will reading a management book or attending a seminar.

Have Patience

The first six weeks of the season were a disaster for Oakland. Nothing went right. Beane stuck to his vision despite being heavily criticized by fans, his staff and the media and was rewarded with record breaking unbeaten run.

If you’re implementing changes in your team, then you need to be patient. Rome wasn’t built overnight and sometimes your best people will take a little time to really shine.

Constantly evaluate the process and find out what’s working and what’s not. If someone or something is massively affecting the impact of your strategy and compromising the success of your team then remove it. Surround yourself with great people and team players, and trust them to perform.

Leadership

Lead by example and focus on the outcome. For the majority of the movie, Billy didn’t have the full backing of his staff, players, and fans but he persevered and continued to implement his strategy and change the way the team played to get the results he wanted.

To succeed, you must have buy in at all levels – explain the why behind the how. A little later in the film, Beane and Brand meet with the players and show them how the statistics they were using actually resulted to better performance – getting the players to see the method behind the madness.

If you want to get your teams backing, you need to tell them the ‘how’ from the get go – by explaining and not dictating, they become invested in the process and want to succeed with you (not fight you) – the more a team believes in a strategy, the quicker the results will come.

The Biggest Lesson of All

Every problem has a solution. Socrates noted many years back, in order to find the truth, first you have to ask the right questions.

The difference between Billy Beane and every other General Manager is he asked the right questions:

  • What’s the problem?
  • How can we compete with other teams?
  • How do we win games?

By asking these questions, he found a solution which helped his team achieve a 20 game unbeaten streak and changed the game forever.

What questions do you need to ask to redefine what you and your team do?

Problem Solving is also featured in my eBook, ‘The Team Building Activity Book’. The book provides an easy to use, step-by-step guide to teaching team building with full descriptions for over 30 team building challenges including: printable challenger briefs, ready to use programmes and access to exclusive member downloads. Buy it now for just $19.99.

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If you found this interesting, you may like my Team Building for Sports Teams post.

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