Larry Johnson is a local sports pundit on WEEI sports radio in Boston and unlike many of his counterparts, he recognizes the rightful place that sports ought to play in our lives. Johnson calls sports “the candy store”, a particularly apt description used often on sports radio when the news cycle includes dire economic news or report of terrorist attacks. Nonetheless, the New England sports scene can easily overtake our Yankee (a reference to geography not team choice) sensibilities as it has the last few weeks. You see, our beloved Red Sox just completed the most dreadful September of baseball eva’, resulting in the second straight year we have not made the playoffs (notice the pronoun use?) and the firing/resignation of the Sox manager Terry Francona.
While the saga of the 2011 Red Sox is miles from being written, it is clear from both Terry’s words and the local media that he had lost control of his clubhouse and that the players were not responding to the same Francona magic that resulted in two World Series titles this decade. The strengths that he brought to the job in the earlier part of his tenure did not result in success in 2011.
What I haven’t heard in the press these last two weeks was that the truly skilled Boston media completely missed this story during the course of the season. While Terry was toiling in his job, realizing that he was losing respect with the players, the rest of us simply saw the Red Sox pitching failing so extraordinarily that they failed to win even two games in a row during September, while still ending the season with the top offense in the majors. Francona even admitted to his bosses that the ship was sinking. We did not see a failure of leadership as the source for the losses. We only saw a rash of Ls and a minimum of Ws.
Clearly, there are myriad factors for the September collapse including poor free agent pick-ups orchestrated by General Manager Theo Epstein with likely strong arm twisting from Sox owners who wanted a return to TV ratings. Adding to this were players with big guaranteed contracts who rested on their financial laurels. Yet, there are a couple of lessons in leadership we can glean from Manager Francona’s lack of success:
- A lack of success does not necessary equal failure. In the what have you done lately for me atmosphere of Boston sports, this truth can be hidden.
- When circumstances change, the leader will have to adapt to the best of his/her ability in order for an institution to grow and be successful. When that adaptation requires a leadership approach stretching beyond a change in habit, actions, or discipline into a alteration of one’s personality or “hard-wiring” then it is simply time for new leadership. Francona had the integrity to recognize this and the safety net of knowing that there will be other teams with fresh job offers.