Is Phillies' Manager Charlie Manuel a Role Model for Business?

I've always been intrigued by the plethora of baseball clichés, analogies and metaphors that have become an integral part of the English speaking business lexicon. We hear them at every turn: "home run", "swing-and-a-miss", "over-the-plate", "keep-your-eye-on-the-ball", "we-need-base-runners", "three strikes and you're ... (well, you get it)". But it's less common to look to sports as a benchmark for business leadership skills. On the eve of this year's Baseball World Series -- and writing from Philadelphia -- I thought it would be interesting to cover some of what's being revealed and said about the Phil's skipper as a refresher course in the elements of wise leadership for procurement and beyond.

Not surprisingly, The Philadelphia Inquirer spread some ink on Charlie Manuel this past Sunday quoting "Bill McDermott, the Newtown Square-based president of global field operations for the software giant SAP [saying:] Leaders in sports and business have one thing in common, they have committed followers. If you look at Charlie Manuel, his team is fully behind him." And as importantly, he's fully behind them.

You can imagine the extent to which coverage of Manuel in Philly at the moment is not exactly objective, though his management style is worth examining. According to the column "The techniques Manuel, 65, displayed in guiding the Phils to an unprecedented second straight pennant four days ago ... were familiar to many local executives and management gurus who watched and admired him." Of particular interest is the climate in which he finds himself -- surrounded by superstars, not unlike "what happens on Wall Street, said [Tom] Peters, a management consultant, author, and Baltimore Orioles fan whose best-selling In Search of Excellence is a business bible. The same sort of star mentality that exists in a baseball dugout is at work there. The best managers in both places know how to handle those stars."

Kenneth Shropshire, Director of the Sports Business Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School said in the article that "With all the talent on the world champion Phillies, there could easily have been crippling jealousies and feuds. With someone less adept at managing people, it could have been a real disaster." Shropshire went on to say "One of the hardest things our management students face is the leadership assessment test, where we ask them to evaluate themselves as leaders, they all think they should be Donald Trumps. They don't see and can't identify their own strengths ... Charlie knows who he is. He revels in it, and he uses it to his advantage. He doesn't try to be anyone else. And his players grasp that. They respond to that. That's great management technique."

Another Whartonite, here in Philly, Professor Eric Bradlow said "He set[s] up an atmosphere where players know that even if they fail, their boss still believes in them ... Notice the psychology Charlie use[s] ... he puts [his players] in situations where they can succeed [and] build their confidence back up ... From a management-style perspective, he's doing exactly the right thing." Baseball, unlike other sports, also parodies the real world of business in that the season is excruciatingly long. Tom Peters said in the piece "In baseball, it's all about keeping your guys from killing each other over the course of a 162-game season ... Manuel sets boundaries -- more than the casual fan might think -- and allows his players to operate freely within them. It's not quite a hands-on style, not quite hands-off, and certainly not hand-holding. But, as nearly all his players likely would attest, it is, hands down, a successful method."

In sorting through the praise and accolades, the take away from Manuel's management and leadership style reveals a few gems that we can all put to use in our more mundane occupations:

1. Know thyself, be who you are and resist mimicking other’s styles

2. Embrace your strengths and those of your team members

3. Build upon mistakes

4. Seize every opportunity to build your team member's self esteem

5. Maintain faith in your strategies and players over the long haul

William Busch

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