With the opening of the World Series tonight, here’s a timely look at the leadership of the often-maligned manager of the Kansas City Royals, Ned Yost.
Like all leaders, Yost has made a few mistakes in his career. To his credit, he seems to be learning along the way – all the way to the World Series.
Yost made plenty of unpopular and maddening tactical decisions this year. But he’s also been exhibiting five of the 30 behaviors that comprise the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®. The research of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, presented as a part of The Leadership Challenge® workshop, has been studied and validated over the past 30 years. These behaviors improve the effectiveness of leaders in a wide variety of workplace settings. And they sure seem to be working out quite well for Ned Yost and the Kansas City Royals.
The Royals are a young and relatively inexperienced team. They started the season strong but, by late May, the team’s offense was showing a few cracks. Winnable games weren’t being won. Yost, who has been quoted as saying “being positive, positive, positive with his team is essential,” publicly vented his frustration to a Kansas City Star reporter on May 28.
But he also did something else on that day. In the same interview, Yost said “At times, when you lose your patience or get frustrated like I did last night, it’s counterproductive.” He continued to say that the team’s turnaround would come when “they’re feeling good about themselves.” He gave an example and reminder to himself about moderating his emotions in team interactions so as not to become ineffective (by making players feel bad). Players have repeatedly said that he pays attention to and checks in with them about how his words and actions affect them.
Ned Yost asks for feedback about how his actions affect other people’s performance. This behavior is one of the six leaders need to Model the Way.
A leader who asks for feedback about how his/her actions affects other people’s performance demonstrates humility and, simultaneously, an understanding that what we say and do has an impact on those around us. Taking the time to examine our impact and demonstrating the wherewithal to change our behaviors to improve how we impact others requires real confidence and vulnerability.
Baseball fans in 47 states rallied around the Royals at the onset of the ALCS. Kansas City’s “I Believe” campaign has become a driving and unifying force for a city that hasn’t seen postseason play since 1985.
Inside the organization, the players and coaching staff are unified, too, by a common purpose and faith in each other. Credit is shared generously and expansively with media mentions of how Yost listens to everyone’s ideas and provides what they need to get their respective jobs done. Behind the scenes, Yost is building the vision and bringing everyone into it. Even though his people skills aren’t obvious in press conferences, he’s highly effective in igniting the team. In turn, this team has sparked interest and support from around the world. They giveback what’s given to them, bringing a Korean fan to games and sharing credit, time and glory with their hometown fans, too.
This manager, in his own inelegant way, is appealing to others to share an exciting dream of the future. This behavior is one of the six related to Inspire a Shared Vision.
A leader who appeals to other to share his or her exciting dream of the future is a leader you genuinely want to follow. Far too many leaders get mired in their own authority, failing to bring others with them as they operate in command-and-control mode.
On paper, it doesn’t make sense that the Royals beat the A’s in the wildcard game and swept the Angels in the ALDS. The Angels, after all, won more games than any other team during the regular season and had a $156 million roster (vs. a paltry $92 million for the Royals). By sweeping the Orioles to claim the American League Championship, the Royals went on to make history, becoming the first team ever to win eight consecutive post-season games.
These underdogs are winning big, proving that small ball can work. The Royals can’t afford big-name power hitters. So, instead, they went old-school, relying on speed to steal bases and bunting in an era when that’s no longer fashionable. Rather than allowing their deficits to do them in, team manager Yost found ways to leverage the team’s strengths.
He’s been consistently mixing it up like this throughout the season, changing the lineup in ways that defy logic, rearranging the coaching staff, making outfield changes late in the game, gambling on an amateur draft pick pitcher fresh out of school. Yost is not afraid to try new things, to zig instead of zag, and to try and try again ‘til he finds what works.
Yost experiments and take risks, even when there is a chance of failure. This behavior is one of the six that are known as Challenge the Process.
A leader who experiments and takes risks even when there is a chance of failure is more likely to win than one who complacently abides by the status quo.
Throughout the season, Yost has talked about “group leaders” and getting players to step up, become more vocal, and demonstrate a willingness to hold one another accountable. He helped James Shields emerge as a leader among the pitchers and for Omar Infante to informally lead the Spanish-speaking players. He has intentionally included Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler in leadership meetings and focused on the things they can do to become better leaders, according to sports columnist Vahe Gregorian.
For Yost, this may be something new. His reputation in Milwaukee was that of a micro-manager who didn’t trust anyone and even “robbed players of their individuality” a la his mentor Bobby Cox of the Braves.
But this year, with this team, Yost is ensuring that players grow in their jobs by learning new skills and developing themselves. This leadership behavior is one of the six grouped under Enable Others to Act.
A leader who ensures that people grow in their jobs by learning new skills and developing themselves will see an expanded capacity for the team. Individuals will grow in their own ways and at their own pace. Yost has focused on “…the realization that these guys are all unique… For me trying to mold them into something I want them to be, why don’t I just let them be who they are?”
Fans frequently disagree with Yost’s decisions. He doesn’t bring relief pitchers in as quickly as fans feel he should. On April 2, Yost decided against putting in a pinch hitter for shortstop Alcides Escobar who hit a fly ball that resulted in a 2-1 loss to Detroit. Yost explained his decision by saying he didn’t want to wreck Escobar’s confidence by showing zero faith in him so early in the season. (Mission accomplished: Escobar’s confidence built to a regular season average of .285, and he doubled in the ninth inning of the second game in the ALCS game to give the Royals a winning score of 6-4 over the Orioles.)
Yost expressed a similar rationale when he left Aaron Crow in to pitch against Boston slugger Daniel Nava on September 15. Nava’s grand slam put Yost in the doghouse with fans. When asked why he didn’t bring in a stronger pitcher, he said simply “Because I had confidence in Aaron Crow.”
Many would say that Yost’s confidence in his players has been undeserved. But think of the message it sends to all the players. Yes, it has cost them a few games. But so what? His confidence boosted players’ confidence, and they’ve parlayed that confidence from wildcards to World Series.
SBNation wrote on September 15 that Yost “is the kind of manager who believes his players can hit home runs just because he asks them to” and predicted he could be a manager who “exhibits a brand of leadership that makes his players want to play baseball that much harder.” That comes (at least in part) from the way Yost makes it a point to let players know about his confidence in their abilities. This behavior is one of the six known as Encourage the Heart.
A leader who makes it a point to let people know about his/her confidence in their abilities finds himself or herself surrounded by confident people. Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas said on October 9 that Yost “goes out there and puts confidence in his players. He believes.”
What are your thoughts about leadership and how it’s displayed by Ned Yost and other MLB managers? Leave a comment below to expand this conversation.
This is the second in a 6-part series on the behaviors of leaders and how these behaviors can be observed in familiar and pop culture examples. To catch up, take a look at last week’s post: Five Leadership Lessons from the Walking Dead Season Premiere.
If you’d like to learn more about the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® and how you can develop the 30 leadership behaviors that will make you more effective as a leader, contact People First Productivity Solutions. We offer 1-on-1 coaching and facilitation of The Leadership Challenge® workshop.