Leadership Lessons from Moneyball

Moneyball is a really good movie that is surprisingly more about shaking up the status quo than just baseball.  The movie is about Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s General Manager, and their 2002 season.  The subtitle of Moneyball is “the art of winning an unfair game” which perfectly describes the A’s challenge of competing with the Yankees & Red Sox who had four times their payroll.  Billy Beane battles his past failures and takes on the status quo with help from his young assistant, Peter Brand.

I found five key leadership lessons from watching Moneyball:

1.  Know the real problem you are trying to solve:  In 2002 the A’s were gutted by free agency when they couldn’t afford to keep their three top players.  The A’s scouts were focused on replacing Johnny Damon, yet the real problem was how were they going to compete when significantly disadvantaged.  “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.”  This changed their strategy.  Pause and take a step back to reassess – are you trying to solve the real problem or the one you were trying to solve yesterday – or last year?

2. Find the best path even in impossible situations:  Billy Beane goes to A’s ownership and told them he had to have more money to compete.  The answer was no.  For some this would have been the end of the story or an excuse for failure.  But, he set in motion a discovery of how to compete on an uneven playing field.  He accepted their significant disadvantage & developed a plan to find undervalued, high production players who get on base.  Keep your sights on how to find success by looking at the problem differently, even when there are big obstacles.  Leadership means not just seeing the problems but finding a path to success.

3.  Learn from your newest and youngest team members:  Billy Beane hired a recent Yale economics grad, Peter Brand, who was masterful at using data to identify trends & insights that the baseball hierarchy didn’t see or appreciate.  Peter knew nothing about baseball, but he saw the information with fresh eyes and no preconceived ideas.  He provided the insight to Bean that ultimately created real competitive advantage.   Listen to your new joiners & recent graduates who bring fresh ideas and perspectives.  Involve them in solving business problems.  Ask them what they think.

4.  Don’t let the past define you:  Billy Beane was a first round draft pick out of high school who was never successful in Major League Baseball.  This failure to be everything expected of him greatly affected his decisions as a leader.   As a result, he became an often angry and distant leader.  He couldn’t watch the A’s games because of his past disappointments when he played & rarely interacted with the team.  Know yourself well enough to realize if you are letting past successes or failures affect your judgment or decisions.  We are all shaped by our pasts, but if a large shadow looms over your work today, there is a good chance it is affecting your success.

5.  Don’t make career decisions based on money:  Billy Beane said he only made one decision in his life just for money and he would never do it again.  He didn’t follow his own instincts or that of his parents when he signed with the Mets instead of taking a full scholarship to Stanford.  While a great opportunity, it wasn’t right for him at the time.  He wasn’t ready.  I have seen people take new positions because of money and forget important factors like readiness, the role, the work environment, impact on family, growth potential or what they love doing.  Money is a factor, but don’t let it be the only thing.

And, my favorite quote of the movie from Billy Beane which summarized the movie for me, “If we pull this off, we change the game.  We change the game for good.”