Managing in an Age of Superstars and Superegos

The new issue of ESPN the Magazine is entitled, The Interview Issue. As you might have guessed, it is filled with one-on-one conversations between different sports personalities and ESPN staffers. One interview in particular, captured my attention.

The interviewer was John Sawatsky. He is described in The Mag as “a former investigative journalist,” who, “coaches many of the network’s reporters in the science of asking the right questions at the right time.”

Photo courtesy of SD Dirk via Creative Commons

The interviewee is the recently retired manager of the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa. Over the course of his successful 30+ year managerial career, La Russa has won three World Series titles and four Manager of the Year awards. His next award will likely be induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

So, what we have here basically boils down to one “coach” interviewing another “coach.” (And as an added bonus, Sawatsky critiques his own line of questions in the footnotes.) While I recommend reading the interview in its entirety, Sawatsky tosses one question that La Russa knocks out of the park…

Sawatsky: So how do you manage in an age of superstars and superegos?

La Russa: Personalize, personalize, personalize. You need to show you care; you need to earn their trust and respect. This is the entire staff, not just me. And trust means telling the truth. Sometimes that’s not what they want to hear, but you can’t bulls–t them, because there goes your credibility.
But you also understand that these guys have a life. So you make it clear that if at any point there is a personal need I can help with, I’m there.

In his brief response, La Russa effectively demonstrates that the key to his success as a manager was to be a leader.

  • Treat your people as individuals. Don’t lead with a one size fits all approach.
  • Build relationships on a foundation of trust and mutual respect.
  • Surround yourself with a team who lead by a set of shared values.
  • Give honest feedback. Don’t be afraid to have difficult conversations.
  • Be empathetic, and offer support, when personal issues inevitably arise.

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