Joe Torre and the crisis of leadership

I wonder if our economy will recover before the Chicago Cubs make it to a World Series? Not sure why I was thinking about this while running this morning. Although clearly, both had near historic meltdowns last week. Fortunately for Cubs fans the nightmare is over for at least another year. For the rest of us, the financial crisis continues with no end in sight.

As a baseball fan, I’ll admit that I had hoped that this would be the year the Cubs ended 100 years of frustration with a World Series win. That optimism was dashed over the weekend as the Los Angeles Dodgers knocked the Cubs out of the playoffs 3-0.

As an investor, I’m told by my financial guru that you have to look at the long term. One hundred years, maybe!

But here’s the point. When it comes to the economy — and a lot of other important issues these days — I’m convinced that we are facing a lack of confidence and trust — and leadership. A Los Angeles Times blog — Countdown to Crawford: The Last Days of the Bush Administration — points out that President Bush’s approval rating now hovers around 20 percent. Clearly, the decider is now a lame duck — out of time, out of ideas, out of luck. As a commentator on NPR said this morning

Too bad this isn’t baseball. We could just fire the manager.

This past summer the New York Mets were going nowhere: out of time, out of ideas, out of luck, out of contention. They fired then-manager Willie Randolph, replacing him with Jerry Manuel. Manuel, by every account a strong leader who connected with the players and fans, led a late-season revival with the Mets falling just short of making the playoffs. Key here: Manuel is a leader. He restored confidence and trust.

Then there is Joe Torre. Torre is a leader with all the skills you would like to have in someone at the head of an organization. Someone with responsibility for success or failure. He listens. He has empathy for his players. He knows how to manage his boss in a way that gains organizational success. He appears to put himself second, others first.

That’s the profile of Torre that emerges in a story several years ago in Fortune: “A manager for all seasons. Joe Torre gets the most out of his workers, makes his boss happy, and delivers wins. He may be the model for today’s corporate managers. And he’s not afraid to cry.”

For Torre, success as a major league manager didn’t come quickly. He was fired several times before ending up with the New York Yankees. There he won four World Series titles and led the Yankees to playoffs in each of his 12 seasons. The Yankees didn’t rehire him after last season.

Too bad for the Yankees who have been enjoying the playoffs on TV.

Good for the long-suffering Los Angeles Dodgers.

Here’s from the Los Angeles Times: “After Long Drought Dodgers Soak in a Series Victory.”

Torre left the Yankees after three straight division series defeats and without having won a World Series since 2000. But he showed in this series — and this season — that he hasn’t lost his greatest asset, the ability to instill the right touch of confidence in his players so that they play their best when the most is at stake.

All season long, when the Dodgers appeared leaderless in the clubhouse and rudderless on the field, Torre urged them to persevere. It became easier when they acquired Manny Ramírez and Casey Blake just before the July 31 trading deadline, but a little more than a month ago, the Dodgers were below .500 and mired in an eight-game losing streak.

“Joe’s cool, man,” said Blake, who spent his years with Cleveland observing him from afar. “He’s a great manager. He never lost his cool. He never lost his belief in the players. He said, ‘Hey, man, we’re going to get through this.’ Just keep fighting and don’t give up. He was awesome.”

Too bad we don’t have a leader like Joe Torre in the White House these days. Of course, I guess you can argue that it doesn’t hurt any to gain a star like Manny Ramirez to help out when the going gets tough.

But, hey. Isn’t that why we teamed W. with Dick Cheney?


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