Billy Beane changed the game of baseball, and corporate learning leaders can pull a few plays from his book to give their leadership development strategies a winning edge.
“If we pull this off, we change the game.
We change the game for good.”
When Brad Pitt’s character Billy Beane uttered these words in the Academy Award nominated 2011 movie “Moneyball,” he verbalized what the best CEOs are thinking when they challenge their CLOs about leadership development. They are looking for new approaches to build a winning leadership team, and a talent development pipeline that understands their business in a way that produces game-changing results that allow them to leapfrog the competition.
Developing top-notch leaders is difficult for even the largest and best companies across the globe. Douglas Ready and Jay Conger, in an MIT Sloan Management Review article, say the problem is a lack of results. “For most companies, the combination of eloquent statements and massive investment has not produced a sufficient pipeline of leaders.”
In general, talent development is difficult, particularly for organizations that are not market leaders in their industry, as was the case for the Oakland A’s when Beane took over as general manager. What Beane was able to accomplish during the 2002 season with a small-budget team is, in many ways, significant. Beane realized that his small franchise would never be able to attract — pay for — the top baseball talent, so he had to find a different lever. This challenged the accepted practice of focusing solely on talent.
There is always a war for talent in baseball, but the pursuit of talent and its associated challenges carry over to business as well. In business, like in sports, there are not enough proven leaders to go around. And just as was the case for the Oakland A’s, finding the resources to recruit and pay scarce top talent is challenging and usually not feasible. Therefore, a top talent-only strategy is a difficult proposition for CEOs to rely on when building high-performing leadership teams.
Creating a game-changing leadership team requires a different strategy. The insight Beane took from his association with his assistant general manager, Peter Brand, was to study ballplayers’ outcomes rather than focus on their physical profile, their potential or even their competencies. “Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players. Your goal should be to buy wins. In order to buy wins, you need to buy runs,” Brand coached Beane during a pivotal scene in the movie.