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In all my years of managing in the corporate world, I used to marvel at how many people I encountered that were technically proficient in the subject matter they presided over, but utterly clueless when it came to managing and motivating people.
It reached its zenith a few years ago when a director-level Human Resources person told a seminar we were all forced to attend that you must treat everyone the same to be an effective manager.
No, HR genius. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Everyone has a different button that motivates and encourages them, and a failure to recognize what that is will pretty much doom you to failure, particularly if things go south and you need the troops to rally around each other. Every organization has leaders and followers, complainers and problem-solvers, career-climbers and “I’m just here waiting until I retire.” There is no one size fits all.
They will follow you if they perceive you care about them and they’re not just another cog in the corporate machine. After decades of managing people, I can tell you there are two things you can’t do to achieve this: You can’t fake caring, as people can sense whether you do or you don’t; and you can’t treat everybody the same.
I say all this as a backdrop to the insightful story Jesse Dougherty has in today’s Washington Post about Davey Martinez. As an x’s and o’s manager, I’ve never been particularly high on Martinez’s skills, and even with the World Series success, I’m still not ready to pronounce him a genius. But after reading how he handled the team this season, I am ready to pronounce him a professional grade leader.
He was the right manager for the situation called the 2019 Washington Nationals.
The first thing that impressed me was he never strayed from the job of managing verses doing. He didn’t start telling people he knew what they should do and they needed to do it his way. He remained a coach, a cheerleader, a mentor, even a psychologist, working with his troops young and old alike to stay calm while the ship was clearly taking on water.
He left the clubhouse to the veterans, which is a very savvy move. Pat Riley used to say he didn’t coach the team, he coached the 2 or 3 players who influenced everybody else and let them sell his ideas to the team. It works well in business too, and Martinez allowed that to flourish. It built a “we’ll solve this as a team” attitude that undoubtedly contributed to the late-season comeback.
It’s clear he treated the young players different from the veterans, the journeymen different from the stars, the utility players different from the starters. He knew each player’s buttons, counseled when he needed to, stayed away when it was more beneficial. He let each player be who they are.
He also focused on maintaining a relaxed environment. Most people don’t react well to hearing things like “get this done or we’re all going to get fired” as I know whenever I’ve heard those sorts of things, I’ve usually replied “then you might as well fire me now because saying that is not going to change my approach to solving this.”
Could explain why I’ve worked at several places in my life 😊
But the most telling quote in the story, and the one that has raised my respect for Davey even more is this one from Sean Doolittle:
“When you start to hear the rumblings about your manager getting fired, it’s hard to ignore,” Doolittle told Daugherty. “I don’t think it’s crazy to say that we played for Davey earlier this season. We played to keep him in this room.”
That kind of loyalty isn’t something a company can give a manager. You earn that.
That loyalty pays tremendous dividends, as no matter who you are, every manager makes mistakes. The good ones learn from them, and if you’ve built a team environment, you’d be surprised how many veteran people quietly come up to you after the fact and explain “there was a better way.”
I’m guessing that’s happened to Davey. Am also guessing the team knew how bad its bullpen problems were, and starters like Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin were in his ear at one point saying they were willing and available to help out when they got to a must-win game.
A stark contrast from the days of Matt Williams and no matter what the situation, putting in a reliever because “he’s our 7th-inning guy.”
The test of a manager is always the results, and getting to the World Series is certainly a high measure of how Davey has managed this season. But, as the story shows, this season wasn’t just about winning. It was about melding everything and everyone into a team.
That’s the difference between a manager and a leader.
It’s also something you don’t get, I might add, by treating everyone the same.