The Paradox of Leadership
Somewhere in his first couple of years working with the manager of the three-time World Champion San Francisco Giants, Bruce Bochy it dawned on Kevin:
I have worked with many iconic leaders in my career. Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett at Southwest Airlines; Ratan Tata at India’s esteemed Tata Group; Nandan Nilekani, the co-founder of Infosys; Graham Weston and Lanham Napier at Rackspace; and General Bill Cooney at USAA, just to name a few. Bochy (he goes by Boch among friends) is as gifted as any CEO I’ve ever met. Intelligence, strategy, creativity, courage, heart and leadership presence—he’s got the whole package. This guy gets leadership.
Like all great leaders, Boch is a blend of many attributes and actions that are paradoxical. His success is anchored in how he manages these paradoxes. A few examples:
Be tough but not mean. You can’t create a World Champion franchise without big expectations, tough discipline and focused execution. Players will test boundaries. They will evaluate how strong a manager is before they wholeheartedly devote themselves to the vision he sets for the team. They want to know, “Does he have the courage to make tough decisions that are best for the team? Can he stand up to players who are not living the culture? Is he stalwart in looking out for the good of the group?” The problem arises when a leader confuses being tough with being mean. Boch is not domineering, controlling or brash. He doesn’t force himself on his coaches or his players. He doesn’t lean on the power of title or pedigree, and yet he’s very much in charge. He demands a lot from his players and coaches, but he is tough, never mean.
Be in control but let go. In his first few years of managing, Boch tried to do everything. But he quickly learned that he could be in control without controlling everything. Delegating did several things. It gave him more freedom. It connected his coaching staff and made them feel more engaged, more a part of the team. And, it put people who were really good at those things in charge of those things. It is paradoxical, he has gained more control by relinquishing it.
Be constrained but not limited. When you are part of a small-market club like the San Diego Padres Bochy’s former team), you learn to do more with less or you lose big time. Boch has always considered it a challenge to see what he could do with what he had. When competing against clubs with deep pockets, he seemed to quietly draw from the well of defiance and show the baseball world what his teams could do. Often, his players exceeded the experts’ expectations. Whether it was playing through pain, pushing through self-imposed psychological constraints or bouncing back when all the prognosticators said it was over, Boch saw constraints as an opportunity to be more creative and draw more from less.
Speak without responding, act without reacting. When you manage 25 different, often eccentric personalities, there is plenty of room for drama. Yet, Boch has had very little of that in his clubhouses. One reason for this is the calming effect he has on his players. He doesn’t overreact. If a player is “amped” about something, he doesn’t mirror that behavior. Often, he will just listen and let them get it out, whatever “it” is. He seems to intuitively know that reacting to a situation could exacerbate it. The better part of prudence might be to do nothing and let time play a role.
We’ve watched him do this with players who said something derogatory or questionable in the media because they were upset about something that happened during a rough game. We knew he was ticked. But he took a step back, made sure he had all the facts, reflected on what the player might be thinking. He patiently gave it a day or two before reacting and then he rationally moved to resolve the conflict.
Be proud but not arrogant. Boch has always been extremely proud of his players and what he has accomplished as a manager, but he has never been cocky or arrogant. This remains true today, even after winning three World Series titles. He is proud of what his teams have done for San Francisco, but he is equally grateful for what the city, the fans, the front office, and his coaching staff have done for his players. With Boch, it’s never been about Boch. Nothing happens in isolation. It’s always a collaborative effort.
Ask yourself. “Can I maneuver between two opposite ways of leading when both are effective? Am I agile? How well do I navigate the paradox?” Great leaders think both/and vs. either/or.
Excerpted from the forthcoming book,
Bochy Ball: The Chemistry of Winning and Losing in Business, Baseball and Life.
By Best-selling Authors, Kevin and Jackie Freiberg
Interview with Dr. Kevin Freiberg
Can you describe some of the leaders you find most inspirational?
These are some of the leaders we’ve worked with. They’ve not only inspired me, but shaped my views along the way.
Ratan Tata, Chairman, India’s $70b Tata Group
We got to know Ratan during our research for Nanovation. We’ve met very few people who think as big as Ratan thinks. He is the visionary behind the $2500 Nano car. Ratan has taken a century-old, highly decentralized, highly diversified business conglomerate and turned it into an innovative global powerhouse. He is as interested as he is interesting.
Bruce Bochy, Manager, World Champion San Francisco Giants
A lifelong learner and one of the most other-oriented leaders you’ll ever meet, Bruce came to us 19 years ago as a first-year manager and said, “I’d like some help with communication strategy.” Since then we’ve worked with him on his media appearances and innovative ways to shake up his clubhouse talks. He’s always looking for new ways to draw the best out of his players. Along the way we’ve addressed his teams as well.
Herb Kelleher, Chairman Emeritus, Southwest Airlines
When we first walked into Herb’s office 25 years ago he treated us like old friends—now we are. Herb disrupted an entire industry with a radically different business model. Herb loves people, especially the people of southwest Airlines. Herb also knows that culture, defined at Southwest as: a warrior spirit, servant’s heart and a fun-loving spirit are the secrets to the company’s success. After two doctoral dissertations on Southwest and a number of consulting assignments, we locked arms to write NUTS!
Ravi Kant, vice-Chairman, Tata Motors
We met Ravi after doing a 3-day leadership retreat for Tata Motors’ executives. Ravi is the architect behind Tata’s Jaguar-Land Rover acquisition and one of the chief catalysts that drove the Nano project. He has created a culture of innovation where very young people are given the opportunity to change the world.
Jim Goodnight, Chairman, SAS Institute
Fortune Magazine named SAS a world leader in intelligence-software and the #1 best company to work for in America. Imagine working a 35-hour workweek, seeing a doctor, hitting the gym, picking up a child from daycare, getting a haircut and getting free advice on life/work balance without leaving campus.
Jim believes that when his people go home at the end of the day he must give them a compelling reason to come back the next day. He’s one of the few CEOs who has truly put his money where his mouth is on this issue.
We’ve done a number of presentations with Jim at the SAS User Conferences and contributed to SAS’s Better Management Live programs.
How do you work with clients to prepare for a presentation?
I’m not into “canned” presentations. Here’s how I prepare:
- Industry. I take a deep dive into your industry, your business and the unique challenges you face. I want to know how your business/industry works. I want to know how your customers live and work and how they experience your products and services. I want to know how you take your products/services to market. And, I want to know where you are, relative to where you want to be.
- Type of Event. Is this a customer/user event in which you want to offer a thought-provoking, stimulating message to those who do business with you? Is it an event where you are trying to get everyone in your organization on the same page, rowing in unison to deal with the changes coming your way? Or is it a recognition event for top performers to say, “thank you, we’re incredibly proud of you, but keep moving forward?”
- Industry Research. Once I get a grip on who your audience is and what message(s) you want to convey, I will dig deeper into your industry.
In addition to the trade journals, newsletters, brochures, corporate documents, white papers, and executive speeches you provide me, I will tap into my own unique information sources to uncover the future trends and new business realities changing the face of your industry.
I frequently hear clients say that they are “floored” by the level of customization I do in my presentations. Based on everything I learn in discovery, I frame the key issues and then craft a presentation with real-world examples, facts, stories, strategies and NEXT practices that are relevant to your organization and speak directly to your objectives.
As outside thought leader, I will draw connections and fresh insights from other companies in multiple industries and then help you apply these insights to discover new opportunities for disruptive innovation in your industry.
By the time I walk on stage, start a seminar or open a retreat I’ve learned a lot about your business/industry, I know what is relevant to you now and I am armed with the strategies and solutions to help your audience thrive in the new realities of an ever-changing market.
I know that you have a lot of choices and ultimately take a risk when choosing an outside speaker. Will they tailor their remarks to our audience? Will they be fresh? Interesting? Relevant? Will their stories and examples “jell” with our audience? Will they challenge us in ways that we haven’t been challenged before? Will they inspire? Will they give us something we can do tomorrow?
I WILL! And I will because I want to create a presentation that works, that plays a key role in the success of your event and the long-term success of your audience.
What are some of the improvements you’ve helped make for clients?
Health Insurance. Humana asked my to participate in 10 presentations to 30,000 employees. The company is moving from a traditional health insurer to a full-blown wellness company focused on helping people not get sick. My role was to give Humana’s leaders strategies for raising the level of customer advocacy through innovation. Today, Humana’s culture looks very different than it did just three years ago. It’s engagement scores are up, it’s net promoter scores are up and people at all levels are truly committed to the company’s dream of Lifelong wellbeing for everyone.
Automotive. The top executives at Tata Motors participated in a 3-day retreat I led in India. The focus was to strengthen their leadership skills in order to create a culture where everyone sees innovation as a key part of their job. Several initiatives came out of this retreat. In their commercial truck division the company initiated a new service strategy that radically changed the service/maintenance experience for truck drivers. In the passenger vehicles area, Tata executives would say that their participation in the innovation retreat strengthened their resolve to do what no one in the auto industry had ever done—build a $2500 (USD) car.
Pharmaceutical. Elanco Animal Health, a division of Eli Lilly asked me to participate in a series of presentation designed to raise the level of accountability within the organization. Today, Elanco has become the leader in innovation among pharma companies because it transformed a culture from order-taking and people seeking permission to do creative things to one where people operate with an entrepreneurial spirit to develop new drugs.
Hospitality. I have been working with MGM Resorts International to help make innovation an integral part of the company’s DNA. MGM has 11 properties in Las Vegas, one in Macau and several being developed in the eastern part of the U.S. My presentation on innovation have led to several innovation initiatives designed to improve the guest experience and drive costs out of the business. Equally, important, MGM is now making innovation one of its top strategic initiatives.
Retail. Sony invited my wife, Jackie, and me to participate in a live simulcast to all of their stores across the United States and Canada. The purpose of the presentation was to help store managers create a culture where impassioned people owned the customer experience. In the months following this event, customer satisfaction scores improved and Sony’s retail sales went up.
What are your most popular keynote topics?
Innovate or Perish!
What if someone in your space came up with a product or service that radically outperformed yours and cost half as much? Someone is going to start a revolution that amazes your customers and disrupts your industry. And, they will define the rules by which everyone else must play the game.
Why can’t it be you?
Find out what happens in a culture where people aren’t afraid to question the unquestionable, leaders encourage risk by rewarding intelligent failure, unlikely partnerships lead to ingenuity you couldn’t achieve on your own, and designers look beyond customer imagination for what’s next.
Through real-life examples and powerful case studies, Kevin Freiberg will show your audience how the most innovative companies in the world continually load their pipelines with great ideas. He will demonstrate how limitations can be springboards to creativity and more elegant solutions.
What if you could create a culture of “constructive discontent” where everyone believes that innovation is his or her job and no one is satisfied with the status quo?
This presentation has received accolades from business leaders in companies all over the world—primarily because Dr. Freiberg demystifies innovation, clearly illustrates what innovators do that others don’t do and offers a roadmap for growth in an uncertain world.
Hungry for Change
In the future there will be two types of organizations: the quick and the dead—those that are unforgettable and those that reside in a sea of sameness, those struggling with commoditization and those that transcend price wars by competing on relationship, innovation and radical differentiation.
Radically different. Unforgettably distinct. Truly Original. Easily distinguished. Do these words describe your business? Products? Services? Relationship with your customers?
In a world of mimicry and “me-tooism,” you can’t be a leader by playing follow the leader. This presentation is about growing your business by finding the courage to break away in a world where there’s so much pressure to conform.
Drawing from research on companies that dare to step out of the comfort zone and do what no one else does, Dr. Freiberg will challenge your audience to: Forget about normal and think abnormal. Forget about fitting in. Think about standing out. Forget about middle of the road. Think: On the edge. Forget about ordinary. Think special.
What’s so special about being special?
Special means you are unforgettable. Special means your customers can’t live without you. Special means that if we eliminated your business tomorrow you would be missed. Special means you stop competing on price and start competing on relationship, innovation and radical differentiation. Special makes the comparison with your competitors totally irrelevant because you give your customers something they can’t get anywhere else.
Find out how gutsy, go-for-it leaders in some of the most creative companies in the world “de-commoditize” their businesses and grow. Then, build your own strategy for blowing the doors off business-as-usual!
Why would you recommend that clients use you as a speaker for their next event?
Insight • Inspiration • Impact
I will give your audience a deeper appreciation for the threats and opportunities that will shape their future. And then, show them how to accelerate innovation.
I’m an international best-selling author who has sold over one million books around the world. I’ve given over 1500 presentations in 30 countries to audiences as large as 10,000 and as small as 6-10 board of directors.
I deliver highly customized keynotes and seminars for clients who want to create awe-inspiring alternatives to the status quo.
My presentations are a forceful blend of high energy, memorable storytelling, entertaining humor, and provocative questions grounded in current research and practical insight.