The highly acclaimed film, Moneyball, wasn’t your typical sports movie.
Sure, it was about an underdog that found a way to succeed against tall odds, but if you watch closely, you’ll come away with more than just fuzzy feelings for the Oakland Athletics.
Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Athletics GM Billy Beane was a brilliant display of leadership and innovation any manager can learn from. This particular scene, set shortly after Beane took over as GM, illustrates the challenges he faced in an antiquated system with a team on a tight budget and a room full of men reluctant to follow new direction.
Here are three things Beane (Pitt) did during this four-minute segment that can help a leader when taking over a new, and possibly struggling, team:
Lesson 1: Control the Room
Beane was just 35 years old when he was promoted to GM. In this scene, he’s at a table with seven longtime scouts that have been doing their job the same way for decades. After listening to an array of baseball clichés and getting a feel for what he’s up against, Beane stops the rambling and lays it on the scouts. He takes on the most outspoken scout head-on to show the room belongs to him. He presents the big picture question and quickly shoots down wrong, shortsighted answers.
This can be tough for a manager thrust into a new role in any business. There will be those reluctant to change. But you were chosen to lead this team for a reason. It’s important to display confidence and control the room to establish your presence and garner respect.
Lesson 2: Always Be Honest
Beane faced a unique challenge when he took over in Oakland. He had to build a successful team with one of the smallest budgets in baseball. He knew what he was up against, but the scouts in this scene weren’t on the same page. Instead of easing into his role, Beane went headlong into the truth and explained the problem was bigger than one player. He needed to look at things differently. He needed everyone around him to look at things differently.
These challenges are commonplace in any business. Methods evolve and teams need to find a way to keep up. They don’t want to be the “last dog at the bowl.” When taking over a new team, honestly map out the challenges you face. It can be hard to hear what you’ve been doing for years is no longer relevant, but it’s essential to finding a solution.
Lesson 3: Be Patient
Despite his best efforts, Beane’s words seem to fall on deaf ears in this meeting. Once the scouts go back to “doing what they do,” Beane left to fight another day. Culture change and mindset shifts take time. As a new leader, the best you can do early on is lay the groundwork for the future. Once your methodology and vision sinks in, that’s when you can start to enjoy the benefits. In Beane’s case, his greatest success came nearly a decade after becoming GM. The Athletics finished with the fifth-best record in baseball and were ranked 24th out of 30 teams in total salary in 2006.
We don’t have to juggle contracts worth millions and build successful professional sports teams. Nonetheless, the principles of a strong leader are the same regardless of whether you run a team of five or 25.
Give Moneyball another watch and look past the numbers, baseball scenes and Pitt’s baby blues. The leadership lessons scattered throughout can help any manager become a more effective leader, especially in a new and challenging role. For more thoughts on leadership through sports, see our Gold Medal Leadership Experience or learn leadership lessons from the Super Bowl.