SOME LEADERSHIP ADVICE FROM "THE OLD PERFESSOR," CASEY STENGEL

Last week I included some wisdom from Bill Belichick, so I figured I’d balance things off with some advice from a man who also led a professional sports franchise to multiple championships but who, unlike Belichick, never gave us any reason to be concerned about what might be buried in the crawlspace under his front porch.

I am talking about Casey Stengel, the great New York Yankees manager from 1949-1960 who helmed the Bronx Bombers to 10 American League pennants and 7 World Series titles in that 12 year span.  (I’ve always wanted to be a sportswriter so I could write phrases like:  “...helmed the Bronx Bombers...”)

Stengel used to say that the key to being a successful manager was to keep the five guys on the team who hate you away from the 15 who hadn’t made up their minds yet.  Given that there are 25 players on a major league baseball team, that means Stengel figured that about 20% didn’t like him and 60% weren’t sure how they felt, leaving another 20% who were in his corner.

According to a lot of solid research—and very roughly speaking—those numbers parallel the percentages of employees in a typical workforce who are fully engaged, somewhat engaged, and actively disengaged.

I will concede that I may be stretching here to find a parallel that is really just a coincidence.  But I think there may be something to the notion that in any large and complex organization, there will be certain typical percentages of engagement levels that will naturally fall out, roughly along those 20-60-20 lines.  That would in turn suggest that maybe our efforts to drive engagement directly are misguided.  Maybe we would be better served by focusing on what might actually affect engagement levels.  Maybe our focus should be on infusing respect, which means giving due consideration to the fact that we say and do—and don’t say and don’t do—affects other people.

Or as Casey once put it:  "Managing is getting paid for home runs someone else hits."

 JG