4 Leadership Styles: A Baseball and Business Story

Baseball is more than just America’s pastime! Sure, the games are exciting and offer the perfect way to spend a gorgeous day with friends and family, but the lessons learned on the diamond apply to so much more than balls and strikes. After all, World Series championships are earned through leadership!

However, no two teams are the same, and the leadership styles exhibited by the league’s top players can vary greatly. Some teams lean on a soft touch, letting their pitching and defense do the talking; others choose to attack things head on, embracing a powerful hitting lineup to win games.

This got us thinking about four of the most common leadership styles – autocratic, laissez-faire, democratic and transformational – and how certain MLB teams seem to embody them.  Here are four teams that bring their leadership styles to life in the way they play the game:

Autocratic – New York Yankees

An autocratic leader is a full-steam-ahead decision maker. When using this style, there is very little to no communication between management and subordinates. Actions are dictated and team members press ahead without much consideration given to collaboration. While autocratic leadership can be a powerful style, not all leaders can achieve success with this demanding approach.

Enter the New York Yankees. For the squad that turned slugger Babe Ruth into a legend, home runs are what will pave the way for success. From Aaron Judge to the recently acquired Giancarlo Stanton, their lineup is a murderer’s row of hitters. The “Bronx Bombers” are not concerned with getting fancy or dancing around issues; they’d rather smash their goals out of the park.

Laissez-Faire – Miami Marlins

Low amounts of feedback and supervision define the laissez-faire approach to leadership. While this hands-off style might work for highly experienced teammates, it can be incredibly difficult for less seasoned individuals. Before too long, the light touch of laissez-faire leaders can lead to chaos.

For the Miami Marlins, chaos appears to be the new norm. This offseason, former Yankee’s star Derek Jeter and his business associates purchased the team and swiftly traded away their top players, slashed budgets and generally angered a beleaguered fan base. By letting go of some of their most experienced leaders, the Marlins have been left with more questions than direction as their young team struggles to define a cohesive culture.

Democratic – Houston Astros

Democratic leaders – also known as participative leaders – thrive on gathering input from the entire team. Of all the leadership styles, democratic leadership values feedback, making teammates feel more engaged because their opinions matter. Leaders only shift in style towards more autocratic moves if faced with decisions that need to be made quickly.

The 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros return this year with a lineup stacked with talent from top to bottom. In order to win, they’ve found success by embracing this leadership style and giving everyone, young and experienced alike, a say in the decision making process. As a recent Sports Illustrated article points out, “Their four most important hitters, the first four batters in their World Series lineups—Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Altuve and Springer—are all 28 or younger.” From fresh rookies to skilled veterans, like eventual Hall of Fame pitcher Justin Verlander, the Astros put democratic leadership into play by having everyone contribute.

Transformational – Chicago Cubs

Transformational leaders go a step beyond other leadership styles by embracing big picture goals that can shape the long-term future of the team. These leaders aren’t just interested in winning; they want to instill a lasting change in culture that will inspire individuals for years to come.

Has there been a more transformational baseball story in the last few years than the Chicago Cubs? These “Lovable Losers” shed 108 years of losing culture over the course of their magical 2016 season and haven’t stopped evolving their vision since. After taking home the World Series title that year in dramatic fashion, the organization has been forever changed. Manager Joe Maddon’s distinct coaching style, focusing on teambuilding and bizarre culture cultivating tactics, has made a lasting impression on a team and a city that loves their Cubbies – no matter what.

Leadership styles can often seem unrealistic and only meant for dusty business books. However, one glance at our favorite baseball teams shows that the principles behind many of the most researched leadership styles really do come to life in surprising ways.

Do you have any other examples of leadership styles in action on the baseball field? Let’s toss a few back and forth in the comments section below!

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