Superstars love to play for Jim because they know he will put them into positions where they strut their stuff. Role players seem to have a special place in the Leyland game plan. He is forever juggling the lineups to get them playing time, whether it is to give a star a chance to sit or fill a special need. There are bench players on the Tigers, but they all play. That keeps the entire team focused and, yes, motivated.
Motivation is essential in baseball. Sure, they are well paid. But think about this: From mid-February to early October or later, major league players play 162 games, excluding spring training and the post-season. In other words baseball is—albeit well paid—a job.
How Leyland keeps the team focused is critical. His singular rule is that he expects every player to come to the ballpark ready and willing to play. Simple, yes, but easy to ignore if it is early April in Detroit and the thermometer reads 39 degrees. Or if it is triple-digit hot in Texas in August. And that’s setting aside the many red-eye flights ballplayers make while crisscrossing the continent, sometimes without an off-day—as well as the myriad nicks, knocks and bruises even “healthy” players receive. No matter. If you play for Leyland, you take to the field prepared.
Baseball is not a rah-rah sport. Like life, it simply goes on. The gift, then, that Leyland gives of himself is to be a champion for his players. When the team is playing well, he leaves them alone. But when the team is losing—or when it loses, as we’ve just seen, after coming so close to making the World Series—he’s the first one there to pick them up, player by player, with a word of encouragement here or a pat on the back there.
And that may be Leyland at his best, watching over and watching out for his players.
John Baldoni is a leadership consultant, coach and author. His newest book,
Lead With Purpose, Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself
, comes out October 2011.
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