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Leadership Lessons Observed in Moneyball

In executive coaching, we use many tools to explore and illustrate behaviors, both good and bad. In this Insights article, we explore the use of "Movies as Coaching Metaphors." Several movies come to the top of mind: Twelve O'Clock High, Hoosiers, The Karate Kid, Gladiator, Chariots of Fire, Invictus, and Moneyball are high on my list as movies that moved me and teach a lesson. So in this insights article, I explore how a coach might use a movie, like Moneyball to explore, emotions, thinking, and behaviors to help your clients learn valuable lessons about themselves, their businesses, and their lives.

Baseball is called the American pastime and there are many business lessons to be learned by playing and watching this game. In 2014, I took the opportunity to re-watch Moneyball the movie and reflect on the lessons that it taught me, that might be useful in coaching and teaching others. When consciously striving to note the business lessons displayed in the movie, I was reminded of how many great business management lessons are in that original story. While everyone who either read the book or watched the movie will have their favorite takeaways, my top 10 management lessons drawn from the book relate directly to Business owners, CEO, Presidents, and General Managers. In Moneyball, there are at least 10 valuable lessons that can be learned by watching Billy Beane as portrayed by Brad Pitt, along with his statistical sidekick Jonah Hill.

Consider these 10 management leadership lessons from Moneyball...

  1. If you can’t win the game, then change your game. You can’t win like the Yankees without a Yankee’s budget. Play to your strengths. Think Blue Ocean, change the game, where you hunt and how you fish for your wins.

  2. What’s the problem? There is a failure among many players and coaches to recognize the deeper issues of the game, that if understood would help them compete more successfully. Focus on the right problem, and don’t answer the problem until you have figured out the right problem; answering the wrong problem can lead you down a rabbit hole of misfortune.

  3. Boil your business strategy down to one number; i.e., getting runners on base; similar to keeping the production line moving with the product on the conveyor belt, etc. Figure out the singular KPI that matters, and drive this home as a company metric of shared value and understanding. This guy gets on base! Hire him.

  4. Sacred cows make the best burgers! Beware of…. We have always done it this way thinking. Sometimes, change is needed, and if your team does not see it, bring in new players.

  5. Ignore stereotypes and unproven criteria of success; find players who can get on base. You may only be able to afford players from the land of mis-fit toys; know what you need from your team and engage them profitably.

  6. Losing sucks. Make sure you have a team that wants to win. While failing fast, failing cheap, and failing often are important to figuring out what works; don’t celebrate your losses or making accepting losing your culture.

  7. Weight talent more than experience. Lean into hiring talented, innovative, high-culture compliant individuals. You may not be able to afford the highly experienced personnel you seek. Indeed, some experienced players are past their prime. Pay for… what can you do for me today.

  8. In firing employees, be direct, keep it simple, and move on. Too much thinking goes into excuses for not purging your team of poorly performing and misfitting players.

  9. Don’t stop your competitors from making mistakes. “Let them make mistakes.” “When your enemies are making mistakes, don’t interrupt them.”

  10. Make sure your employees know why they were hired. “I hired you to get on first [base], not get thrown out at second base.” Make sure that you broadcast and reward behavior that is directly tied to your performance goals.

Helping your clients boil down their businesses to one key measure keeps the game of business simple and helps everyone on your team keep the goal in mind. An example of a simple and powerful key measure is: tracking the KPI for What Causes Sales in Your Business; track that. Of course, knowing that you need to measure the most important thing(s) is important; knowing what to measure is more difficult, and something we focus on routinely in your coaching practice. Einstein was certainly right when he said, 'Not all data is measured, and all data measured does not matter.' Knowing what to measure matters, and that is just one of our focuses in coaching.

And to end where I began... to me, the great message of Moneyball is the necessity to figure out who you are, what game you are playing, determine where are your strengths and weaknesses, to learn what is important to master and measure in your business, and finally to go out hit the singles and doubles consistently that allow you to get men on base, move them around, and win big in your industry.

Wishing you a prosperous 2021.


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