In the fall of 2016 the Chicago Cubs ended a 108 year drought to win the World Series. Television ratings soared by 50% as baseball fans everywhere were caught up in this dramatic and engaging story.
In their World’s Greatest Leaders rankings, Fortune magazine ranked Cubs president, Theo Epstein, as #1 leader for orchestrating this turnaround. In his book, The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse, Sports Illustrated senior baseball writer, Tom Verducci’s chronicles the five-year rebuilding plan Epstein used to win the World Series. The center of his approach was “a deeper understanding of important human qualities among his players — the character, discipline, and chemistry that turn skilled athletes into leaders — enabled Epstein to engineer one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports.”
Epstein saw how a Moneyball approach steeped in data and analytics succeeded and then collapsed into toxic infighting when he was with the Boston Red Sox. When he joined the Cubs, Epstein asked his scouts to look deep into each prospective player’s character. He demanded pages of detailed character reports from interviews with just about everyone who knew the player. He supplemented this with analytics and statistics to find, and build the team around, players with the best balance.
Verducci observed, “they never stopped searching to find edges, but they made a fundamental decision early after coming to Chicago that the one edge they could exploit was found in a very old-school resource: people.” Said Epstein, ” If we can’t find the next technological breakthrough, well, maybe we can be better than anyone else with how we treat our players and how we connect with players and the relationships we develop and how we put them in positions to succeed.”
Over 2,000 years ago in ancient Rome, Cicero, pointed out “it is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment.” Some things — like fundamental human values — never change.
Tomorrow we publish my May blogs in the June issue of The Leader Letter. This issue looks at a few core character elements of outstanding leaders. A Chinese Buddhist text tells us “from intention springs the deed, from the deed springs the habits. From the habits grow the character, from character develops destiny.” What we repeatedly do and practice becomes our leadership habits that form our character.
And the leaders of an organization form a collective character. This ripples out to become the organization’s culture.