There ain’t much to being a ball player

“There ain’t much to being a ball player, if you’re a ball player.” – Honus  Wagner

I thought of this quote recently when talking with Marty, another consultant who is a friend of mine. He does fiscal consulting for non-profit groups, and is often a amazed at the degree of bad management he witnesses. “Is it so hard to be a good manager?” he asked.

“There ain’t much to being a good manager,” I replied. “If you’re a manager.” Marty had been blessed during much of his working career to have managers who were talented, motivating, understanding people. Some served as mentors. Some advocated on behalf of employees. All of them directed him in a way that allowed him to reach his potential and made him remarkably successful. Since “retiring,” he travels extensively sharing his expertise. But more and more he’s encountering people who have no idea how to run a team, motivate a workforce or assemble a group of people capable of achieving more than any of them could individually. “Why are there so many bad managers?”

Like teachers who “teach to the test,” there are too many managers nowadays who manage only to the bottom line. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the bottom line and am dedicated to making it look good. But how to make that bottom line look good is where too many of today’s managers go awry. They think the only way is to cut heads, cut expense, or drive their people til they drop. The idea of treating people well, offering them flexibility, respecting them as valued assets instead of commodities to be used (and then discarded) is unknown to them. Sometimes this is because they are the second generation of bad managers. They have never experienced a good manager who treated them well and developed them, motivated them, and simply, knew how to manage. So they are reinforcing and repeating the sins of their managers.

This has to stop.

This is not a sustainable model. We need to get back to making manager an honorable profession. So many of today’s workforce do not even want to be managers. As they rise in their organizations and get closer to where they could become managers, and perhaps learn how to be managers, that’s when they bolt. They branch out on their own and become entrepreneurs. Because they simply do not want to manage.

Fine. Don’t make them managers. To keep them, let them be the subject matter experts they may want to be. Find the people who have the necessary skills to be good managers. Find the people who may not be the best technical experts but understand the business and have the skills to communicate with people, listen to their needs, mold a group of people into a team, and achieve the results organizations need. These are the people who will be the next generation of great managers. These are the people who are excited by the prospect of seeing a group reach a goal. They are not as interested in individual greatness. They derive satisfaction, even joy, from seeing the team succeed.

And when you see them doing all this, if you ask them about what they’ve done, they won’t brag . They’ve done it because they love it, because they relish seeing the team succeed. They may even be humble about it. If you ask them about their success, they talk about their team, not their managerial prowess.

Because there ain’t much to being a manager, if you’re a manager.

4 thoughts on “There ain’t much to being a ball player

  1. For this conversation, it may be helpful to differentiate “managers” from “management and “leadership.” Middle managers are often forced to manage to a short term bottom line. They are given short term financial goals with limited latitude to miss short term targets in order to meet long term objectives. Even those managers who are motivated to see teams and individuals succeed will have to succumb to the pressures of organizational mandates for short term measures. Managing well is much easier when leadership has a long term vision and understands that some short term loses can be sustained on the way to long term success.

    • Karin makes an excellent point and reinforces that good management starts with good leadership. It will be a lot easier for, and make more sense to, lower and middle level managers to manage well if they see their managers and senior leaders modeling those behaviors. When mid-level managers are treated well and rewarded (gasp!) for being good managers, and not just for hitting targets, then we will see a shift. Managers must be evaluated based on how they achieve results, not just the results they achieve.

  2. This is a wonderful discussion. I especially liked the Karen’s line referencing leadership. Since my first job at age 9, I have been very fortunate to have great leaders as mentors vice managers. As was explained to me by Mr. Marx LaCompte at age 11,when I asked him the difference, he stated ” you can manage time, money, product, etc. but you can not manage a Team member. In today’s markets we simply have too many managers and so very few real leaders. As you stated, Ron, you can tell the difference by simply asking “what are some accomplishments that you are most proud of?” A manager will have no difficulty listing, item after item of how great thou art. A leader will be uncomfortable and merely reflect on being part of a Team and it’s success.
    Referencing baseball, I liked your opening Ron, It is almost undeniable that the New York Yankees have had probably the best roster in baseball for years but why haven’t they won more titles? They hire talant vice developing it. To this end, they also have one of the poorest farm system. Just as is in our organizations today.

    • Thanks for your comment William. I agree, too many managers, not enough leaders. One of my favorite questions when interviewing people for management positions is to ask them to tell me why they want to be a manager. If they talk about being in charge, getting lots of recognition, etc. they have, to continue the baseball metaphor, two strikes against them. And thanks for Mr. LaCompte’s sage advice. It still rings true.
      Only the best,

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