Torre and Girardi: Coaching the Joes


April 1, 2008

by Marshall Goldsmith

As an executive coach who is accustomed to working with corporate chief executives, I found this recent request to be an interesting challenge: Give some coaching advice to two coaches, Joe Torre, the former coach of the New York Yankees, now coaching the LA Dodgers, and Joe Girardi, the new coach of the Yankees. Here goes:

For Joe Torre:

1. Never say, “When I was with the Yankees we …”

One of the greatest leaders I ever met left a highly successful corporation to work in Silicon Valley. Although his new staff loved him, they absolutely hated it when he incessantly repeated stories starting with, “When I was at ….” You have a great record. Just let your players know what you think is right without referring to your past. Not only does it get old for others when we do this – it reminds them that we are old, and that’s never a good thing.

2. Give credit where it’s due

If the Dodgers succeed, you should always go out of your way to give your players all of the credit for the success. If the team’s fortunes turn around, the press will go out of its way to point out how you made all of the difference – and how stupid the Yankees were to get rid of you. Don’t buy into this – even with subtle comments or facial expressions. Always point to the players’ contribution and downplay yours. One of the greatest leaders I ever met told me, “While achievers can make it all about me, leaders make it all about them.”

3. Develop young talent.

I have asked many retired CEOs, “What are you most proud of?” None ever talked about how much money they made or how big their office was. They always talked about the people they helped. If you win another championship you will – and should be – very proud. If you help develop young players, as both athletes and human beings, you will – and should be – even more proud.

4. Forgive the Steinbrenners.

Do this not for their sake, but for yours. You have done a great job of taking the high road and putting up with their often harsh treatment and unrealistic expectations for years. It would be easy to carry around anger at them. Just let it go. When you carry around bad feelings, you only punish yourself.

5. Enjoy yourself.

Life is short. You have won four World Championships, been to the World Series six times, and made the playoffs 12 years in a row. You don’t have to prove anything to anybody. You are getting older. Look at this as an opportunity to have a new start – without having to deal with the Steinbrenners. Keep your enthusiasm and joy for the game, and be a happy warrior. Commit to having a great day, every day, no matter what happens on the field. Your enthusiasm will be contagious.

For Joe Girardi:

1. Bust your butt.

You have been given a once in a lifetime opportunity. Go for it. There is a time in life to have balance and be well-rounded. This is not that time for you. Do whatever you can to help the Yankees win. If they don’t, you will soon be gone. Young lawyers, investment bankers, and consultants work 80 hours a week to make it in the big leagues. Now it’s your turn.

2. Forget about life being fair.

The New York press has no interest in being fair and balanced in their reporting of your work. If the team loses, you are going to take the heat. If you get even a little defensive, it will only get worse. Take all the responsibility for any failures. It will be laid at your feet anyway.

3. Just smile at Hank Steinbrenner.

Yes, he may be your boss, but ignore his comments as much as you can. This family has no history of supporting its managers, so don’t expect it will start with you. Joe Torre was a wonderful role model for how to manage this relationship.

4. Recruit the veterans to help you out.

You team has some of the most experienced and successful professionals in the history of the game. Recognize them for who they are. Be honest about what you need. Share your leadership responsibilities with the team.

5. Take it seriously, but have fun.

You have a tough act to follow. I got my PhD at UCLA when John Wooden was the basketball coach. Guess what happened to the next several coaches? They were all fired in short order because they “just weren’t him.” If you are not an instant success and you do get fired, nobody is going to be surprised, and neither should you be. In the great movie Twelve O’clock High, General Savage (played by Gregory Peck) sent a message to all of his fighter pilots (who were engaged in daylight precision bombing): “Assume you are dead. Forget about going home. Then it won’t be so hard.” My advice for you is the same: Assume you are dead. Forget about the keeping your job. Then it won’t be so hard.

6. Look at the upside.

Hank Steinbrenner has said, “What we’re looking for is a guy who’s maybe going to be one of the greatest managers of all time over a period of, oh, 10 to 20 years.” Maybe that manager will be you. Bear in mind you’ve been given the opportunity of a lifetime. Make the best of it.

It occurred to me as I was writing this that there are valuable lessons here for leaders in business, whether you’re in the Joe Torre position of having had great success somewhere and are in a new position, or whether, like Joe Girardi, you’re taking over from a legendary leader. And I am sure that many of you have some advice for either – or both – of these two Joes.