What makes a good leader? That’s an age-old question that’s interested historians for generations. Incidentally, I’m a student of history as well; when I think of great leaders over time, I would only put one sports figure in that category: Vince Lombardi. However I would submit that the greatest leader of all-time would be George Washington – and not for reasons that you might think. Washington commanded the Continental Army to victory, which at the time was a group of soldiers who didn’t even know if they’d be paid any sort of stipend for their services. To be able to motivate a rag-tag group like that to defeat the mighty British armed forces took one heck of a sell job.
That aside, perhaps you can look at the likes of Buck Showalter in a similar light. No, Buck’s not an American hero. Humble man that he is, he’d probably shudder at the idea! But consider the fact that in 2014 Showalter managed to continually motivate his players to play in some cases well above their heads. If it wasn’t an injury to some major piece, it was a suspension or some other controversy that befell the clubhouse. Yet Showalter kept his players motivated to come in each day and do their jobs.
Courtesy of Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
However there’s another aspect to being a good leader that’s important, and I foreshadowed it above: humility. If you listen to Showalter talk about his team or the job he’s done, he’s quick to deflect that praise to the guys on the field or the personnel in the front office. And in an article written by Steve Melewski of masnsports.com, Showalter offered the following quotes in the wake of his Manager of the Year award earlier this week:
"“The game is about the players and managers come and go. Timing is everything. I’m the first to tell you the groundwork of Andy MacPhail and the work he did. Dan Duquette has taken it and run with it and even done as good as things if not better.”"
On the players “taking him along for the ride”:
"“We were talking about plans for the postseason and yeah, you have to keep in mind they allow you to manage in this game,” he said. “You have to feel like you are all on the same page……I just hadn’t had a real good chance to tell them thanks for the way they played, the standard they held for themselves. I had a great seat and there are so many things that happen where you take a real prideful moment.”"
Humility is important in all aspects of life, even for the guy at the top. Buck Showalter is incredibly grounded in everything he does. And there are certain things upon which a watchful eye or ear will pick up here and there. Showalter never uses the word “I” when talking about the team, unless it’s in reference to an error that he somehow made. It’s always “we” and “our team.” That might sound like a simplistic type of thing, however it shows that he’s a part of the team just like the players. I’m a firm believer in the whole concept of publicly praise and privately scold. When a player makes a mistake, you’ll hear Showalter say something along the lines of [insert player name] felt that this as the right thing to do and so forth. I presume that behind closed doors he’ll then have a conversation with that player to ensure that moving forward they’re all on the same page.
I’m not a fan of calling guys out as a coach, and often that will make the difference between being a coach and a leader. However it also goes without saying that a good leader (in a sports setting) has to know his stuff when it comes to the game. (And the same is true in a setting like the aforementioned George Washington example; the man was a military genius.) If the coach/manager doesn’t know what he’s doing, he can deflect as much praise as he wants but he’s still not a leader.
So with Showalter you get a big dose of all of the above. He comes off as a guy who just knows what he’s talking about – whether he’s talking about baseball or anything else. At the beginning of the season a very prominent analyst for a well-known network personally told me that if Buck says it or does it, I’d be inclined to listen to, believe, or follow him. That’s a bit of a paraphrase of the comment, however notice that the word BASEBALL doesn’t appear in there at all.