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San Francisco Chronicle: What Can Business Learn From Bruce Bochy? A Professor Explains

Posted by the San Francisco Chronicle Oct. 29, 2012.

By Kathleen Pender

What can managers in business learn from San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who led two very different teams to World Series championships in three years?

I asked a variety of management professors, consultants and managers themselves that question. Their answers focused on his communication skills, humility, confidence and ability to manage away from a superstar mentality.

Here’s what they had to say:

– Chester Spell, an associate professor of management at San Jose State University, says Bochy epitomizes what management consultant Jim Collins calls a “level-five leader,” someone who can transform a company from good to great through a “paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will.”

In a Harvard Business Review article, Collins says a level-five leader demonstrates compelling modesty, shuns public adulation and is never boastful. He acts with quiet, calm determination and relies on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate. He looks in the mirror to apportion responsibility for poor results and looks out the window – to other people, external factors and good luck – to apportion credit for the company’s success. He also “demonstrates an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results, no matter how difficult.”

Spell, who has studied demographic diversity in baseball, says the most successful team managers are also able to “dampen or handle any harmful effects of having a lot of differences between players on a team.” This includes differences in race, national origin and age.

“Diversity is a good thing, but it’s a complicated thing,” Spell says. Bochy’s team this year included five players from Venezuela, three from the Dominican Republic and two from Puerto Rico, and ranged in age from 22 to 39.

When you have such diversity, in baseball or business, “divisions are very apparent. Some call them fault lines,” and they can do more harm than most people realize. “A good manager can actually manage these divisions and focus on what brings them together and help them work as a unit,” Spell says.

Byron Deeter is a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners who is working with a dozen companies. He was also part of four national championship rugby teams at UC Berkeley under renowned coach Jack Clark.

He says managers can learn two lessons from Bochy. One is that “culture matters.” Before games, you would see players jumping up and down in the dugout, just having fun. Instead of telling them to get serious for the big game ahead, “Bochy did the opposite; he allowed the team to be themselves. They really enjoy playing together and play better when they are loose and relaxed.”

In business, “helping establish a culture in whatever way is right for that company is time and money well spent. Team bonding activities may in some cases seem childish, like the pranks going on in the Giants dugout,” but they help when the going gets rough, he adds.

“We see this in our companies. They are investing in the little things – beer bashes, bringing dogs to the office, swag, road trips and hackathons – to build up this team culture and energy so that when those tough times come, it’s just much easier to turn to those around you and say everyone is needed and ‘Coach, how can I help?’ ”

The other lesson is “team first,” he says. “People joke about how baseball is an individual team sport.” Sports, like business, is full of prima donnas. But a good manager, through consistent actions, sends the message, “we are all a unit, no one is above the team.”

Deeter says Bochy’s decisions not to reactivate left fielder Melky Cabrera after his drug suspension to preserve the team dynamic, and to transfer struggling starter Tim Lincecum to relief are good examples. At Cal, coach Clark “would bench all-Americans if they showed acts of selfishness,” he adds.

“Asking an engineer to go on a sales call is the equivalent of Lincecum coming out of the bullpen or a sacrifice bunt,” Deeter says.