business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Any time you doubt the power of popular culture, quickly take a test proposed by humorist Dave Barry. He says if you start singing the theme song to the "Beverly Hillbillies" to any Baby Boomer, hey will complete it almost perfectly. You can try this yourself. Ask any random American to tell you the names of Snow White's seven dwarfs. Then ask them the names of the nine members of the US Supreme Court. Compare the percentage they get right, even if you first have to Google the names of the justices.

Pop culture is so much fun and comes laden with examples we can use all the time. Movies, television shows, even the foibles of young singers provide us with all types of powerful moralistic examples. Occasionally, it's even a good thing to do.

For the past few weeks, you probably have noticed a pattern in MorningNewsBeat, as both Kevin and I publicly wailed for our New York Mets. (Forgetting, of course, the suffering of Chicago Cubs fans who last cheered on a World Series winner when Teddy Roosevelt was still in the White House.) Sports like baseball are handy for examination because the simple facts of wins and losses are so much easier to understand than the nuance of business success.

Sometimes it even works for nuance.

The example of New York Yankees manager Joe Torre is just such a case. Torre, if you don't follow baseball, is the resident genius of the Yankees, guiding them into the playoffs for 12 consecutive years and leading them to four world titles. Others have a different opinion, finding him merely the caretaker of the most expensive collection of players in baseball.

Again, there is more to the story. Joe Torre once managed my beloved Mets (before moving to the hated Yankees.) While there, his skills were something less impressive. The team was lousy and his managing style fit them perfectly. In fact, for most of Torre's career as a manager, his record was poor. That is until he went to the Yankees where suddenly he became a genius.

Bill George, the author of True North, says most of us are mistaken when we say people are born managers. George's book argues that everyone has the potential to be a good manager. But it takes time, training and guidance.

Joe Torre may prove the point. Sure, he had a team of all stars and the largest payroll any where in his sport, but baseball proves time and again that money guarantees nothing. Witness again my Mets who know how to spend, but have been to one World Series since 1987. (Cubs, Dodgers and Texas Rangers fans can attest to the limited power of spending too.)

Torre figured out how to manage this collection of all stars to make them winners. He figured out how to cope with an owner who handed out the checks and grief in equal doses. What's more, he clearly learned something from the mistakes he made with his earlier teams. Maybe he wasn't born a great manager, but he certainly became one.

It's an easy parallel to your store, your company, your staff and even to yourself. Just maybe there is a chance that we can all grow into the manager and leader we would like to be. You don't have build a field of dreams to make it happen either.
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