February 24, 2012

Leadership Lessons From Moneyball

Valerie & I watched Moneyball last night. I was shocked that I got her to watch a baseball movie. A big thanks to the rugged good looks of Jonah Hill & that other guy, I think his name is Pitt, are probably in order for getting her to buy in. After all, it's not just a movie about baseball; it's a movie about the business end of baseball. I'm sure it sounded like a riveting topic to my wife who has never seen the baseball classic, The Natural & maybe not even Field of Dreams.

First off , it's a great movie. Great writing, great pace, & Jonah Hill actually does deserve the Best Supporting Actor nomination that he received. It probably won't win Best Picture & Brad Pitt probably won't get the Best Actor nod, but I'm just glad a movie with such mainstream success got attention at the Oscars. Usually it's just a bunch of odd ball flicks like The Artist that get all the attention.

After processing the movie, I was hit by some huge leadership lessons that jump out of this story of how Billy Beane built a winning baseball team with misfits, cast-offs, & nobodies.
1) What Has Always Worked Might Not Work In Your Current Context.
A business as usual approach to that Oakland A's team would have resulted in a mess, but turning the baseball world on its ear resulted in a division championship. It also laid a pattern for the Boston Red Sox to follow as they built their World Series team of just a few years later. What has always been done in your field might not work in your particular circumstances, & what you've always done might not be what you need to do in the specific context you might find yourself in.

2) The Guardians Of The Status Quo Are Ruthless & Powerful.
Billy Beane paid a pretty high price for what he did. His scouts thought he was insane. His manager was less than supportive, & the baseball world viewed him as a heretic...until they started winning. Then Billy Beane was a genius...until they lost. Then it was back to saying, "See I told you that wouldn't work." If there is something you have to change, be prepared to be wounded. Jonah Hill's character, Peter Brand, told Beane, "The first one through the wall gets the bloodiest."
3) Vision Must Be Cast & Re-Cast.
Leaders know this, but it's easy to get sidetracked by tasks. The result is that we & those we lead begin to lose focus on the ultimate goal. In the movie, the team doesn't really begin to take shape & fulfill their potential until Beane & Brand are shown meeting with players explaining what they are trying to do & how each player fits into the team.

4) Know The REAL Problem You're Trying To Solve
There is a great scene where Beane is sitting around the table with his scouts looking at the overwhelming task that faced them following the 2001 season. The scouts perceived the problem as one of simply replacing the player(s) they would lose in the off season. It's the same problem scouts & GMs have had to face every year. However, Billy Beane understood it wasn't that simple. They couldn't replace the guys they were losing because they couldn't afford to keep them, so how could they go sign someone to "replace" him. Beane understood that the real problem was that the baseball business system was inherently unfair. Therefore, they had to adapt or die. What is the real problem you & your ministry or organization are trying to solve? Don't spend your time focused on a symptom of the bigger issue.

Moneyball is a great movie. It's entertaining, funny, & really insightful. There's a little bit of language in it, but for a PG-13 movie, it's actually light on questionable content. It was really interesting to watch the movie & actually remember the events on which it's based. I'd recommend it to everybody.

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