The 2010 winner of the World Series, the San Francisco Giants, acquired superstar Carlos Beltran and sank like a stone. Why?
Major league baseball lumbers towards the World Series, which will determine this year’s champion. One thing is certain. Last year’s champion is not among the teams playing off to claim the crown. This article is about them, the San Francisco Giants, and the organizational mistake they made that prevented them scaling Everest anew, or at least dying in glorious defense of the pass at Thermopylae.
The 2010 Champions were a relatively anonymous bunch of light-hitting, great-pitching guys who rose to every occasion, and astonished—sometimes even overwhelmed—its chop-licking adversaries.
Something happened on that team that doesn’t happen in many organizations, not even on championship teams. It grew to become greater than the sum of its parts. Every man filled in wherever another man vacated. Twenty-five men each made the team his personal problem, and not his personal problem the teams. The team adhered from the heart outward. It merged to form a unity and raised its game to unconquerable heights. They became champions, together.
General Manager Brian Sabean, top management, manager Bruce Bochy and the coaches somehow gave them something to care about bigger than themselves. They responded as ballplayers, and as men. They made their fortunes; they won; and they bonded.
For most of 2011, the Giants remained in first place in their division and remained true to form: light hitting, great pitching and unified.
Then, they made a giant organizational mistake. They put their faith in a big bat—a star—rather than in unity. Not that there’s anything wrong with a big bat. The mistake was to let its possessor dictate conditions.
As a veteran player with ten years in the league and five on the same team, the star, Carlos Beltran of the New York Mets, had no-trade rights, which he used to exact conditions from the Giants. The rumor was that Beltran conditioned the trade’s acceptance on playing right field (his normal position) and batting third in the order.
The important point is that the Giants organization and players know what the conditions were, and so does Beltran. The Giants acceded to them, and proceeded to collapse.
They were 60-44 when they traded for him, with the third-best record in the National League despite having the third-worse offense in baseball. They held a four game lead over second-place Arizona.
By August 10, twelve days after he’d joined the team, they’d fallen permanently out of first place in their division. They were eliminated from playoff contention on September 24 in the penultimate week of the season.
The Giants lost their je ne sais quoi along the way. That wasn’t Beltran’s fault, or any individual player’s. It was management’s fault. It was the organization’s fault for letting it happen.
Beltran, a free agent, is still dictating conditions. He has served notice that to sign a long-term deal with the Giants, they will have to upgrade their offense (beyond his acquisition), address the shortfall at the leadoff position, and put players on the team who will make the lineup better.
His comments are commonplace for someone pondering his own circumstances in splendid isolation from the context of others. But, his tack is not good for the Giants, who need him, and everyone in the enterprise, to conform to the team’s expectations and to think about his contribution to the organization rather than the other way around.
Self-centeredness and friction are the norms in organizational life as in everyday life. We’re only human, and organizations are filled with human beings. But, these postures are neither ideal nor salutary for an organization, especially not one like the Giants, which was notable for its unity.
This translated into character and the ability to tough out close wins on the road or at home, the kind you need to win in order to be winners.
Building unity: the key management role
Though it’s little appreciated even in business schools where organizational behavior is studied and taught, creating the conditions in which unity can occur is a key function of management, and the key function of leadership.
Management creates the conditions for unity, or conversely disunity. Unity can only happen through organizational participants (e.g., teammates) free election of real (not just apparent) goods on offer. The organization proposes values that the human heart can freely elect, if capable. Inadequate values proposed; restricted elections; less than desirable unity.
Unity thus exists because favorable conditions exist, and players are capable of choosing it. It comes about by appealing to human beings where they can be drawn in–first by the belly, next by the head, and ultimately by the heart.
Since achieving unity requires reaching players at all three levels of motivation, players must have the capacity to be reached at all three levels. Building those capacities depends ultimately on them–on their uses of personal freedom, on their free choices. But, the organization is hardly a helpless bystander. On the contrary, it is an incentivizor, a motivator.
One might classify managerial types by motivational emphasis. Strategists align people to the organization by appealing to their material well-being. Executives do that and additionally secure buy-in from people via their assent. Leaders do that and additionally unite people to the organization by appealing to their desire to belong, to give, to participate in something good in and of itself.
Leadership, in sum, is a three-dimensional operation. Leading organizational behavior, which manifests itself on the playing field, is a three-dimensional phenomenon fomented by leaders wherever they are found in the organization.
In good organizations, leaders are found everywhere because the organization has a plan for forming them, because it infuses them with this value.
A good worth serving
Not just any offer will suffice to draw the human heart. People must believe that cooperation with the organization promises some good worth serving, worth loving. This is something beyond money (belly), and even beyond winning (head).
Participants’ true good–from players to customers to vendors–forms part of the rightly directed organization’s mission. Human flourishing and unity occur only where all three motivational levels are satisfied, which is not likely to come about by pure serendipity.
Knowing that one will get rich through participation, as all players do, will suffice to draw the belly. Knowing that one may win the championship will draw the head. But neither will draw the heart. Only service to teammates, coaches, fans, a city, an organization, a team, its emblem, others, someone or something will do that.
Naturally, teams win championships without creating conditions for human flourishing and achieving unity. They might overwhelm opponents with talent, or payroll, or a transcendent individual performance. The 2010 Champion Giants, however, weren’t one of them. They won because they played as one.
Where there is smoke, there is fire. Where there is unity, there is the fire of love. Love is the heart’s response to an authentic good.
If the Giants continue to let Beltran impose conditions, they will continue signaling that they are not really interested in his true good, his fullness as a human being capable of service. They’ll signal to the entire team that they just want a hitting machine, not a person.
They will have to signal that his learning to appreciate what’s fully on offer forms part of their intention towards him. His bat is not enough. Neither is his desire to win. They need his heart, for his sake as well as the sake of others.
All things being equal, any team will improve if unified. It follows that any organization unconcerned with building up people capable of identifying the authentic good and choosing is being less than fully rational. It has no plan for achieving a sine qua non of unity, a condition of its own success.
In brief, improving moral quality—helping people to become more generous, to think of others, to serve the team—forms part of the intelligent organization’s mission, and vivifies its executives, managers and leaders.
Something bigger than Beltran?
The moral quality of an organization’s people is like the tensile strength of a bridge’s steel. Just as it would be foolish to build a bridge without knowing the tensile strength of the steel going into it, it is foolish to undertake a project without knowing the moral quality of the people on the field.
From public indications given by Beltran regarding what he considers essential, his tensile strength could stand improvement. Its current state hasn’t helped him to achieve what he says he wants. He’s being irrational. And, the Giants aren’t helping him to learn.
It’s not a question of his prowess, competitive fire or work ethic. By all accounts, he is an exemplary player, a star. For him to grab the brass ring on this team, however, he’s going to have to learn to give to something bigger than himself.
Despite his professed passion to win a championship, Beltran’s participation on the reigning World Champions devolved to his playing well, racking up stats and setting himself up to secure his last big contract.
The Giants didn’t educate him about using freedom for something bigger than self. My suspicion given the Giants perceived urgency and manifest covetousness of Beltran’s bat, is that they didn’t try to, not that he lacked the capacity to freely respond had they.
Ultimately, organizational flourishing, just as personal flourishing, is a matter of heart. In matters of the heart, reasons for action—the “why’s”–are determinative. That’s where they will have to appeal to Beltran, to operate on him, to help him get better for his own sake.
Professor Max Torres is a Visiting Professor of Business Ethics, Organizational Behavior and Corporate Governance at IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain, and at other institutions around the world. He has held positions on both business and law faculties, such as at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire, and the Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Prior to a career in academe, he worked in the Investment and Securities fields with Merrill Lynch and other firms. He is the founder of the Three-dimensional Leadership Institute in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which helps organizations to harness the intangibles rooted in human motivation.