LA Angels Manager Mike Scioscia
(June 2008)

Leaders have primary obligations to the best interests of the organizations, groups, governmental units or nations they lead, and secondary obligations to the individuals under their command. This is Leadership 101, but it is sometimes the hardest lesson to master. The people he or she leads are essential to the long term success of any leader at meeting the expectations and aspirations of the entity being led. Leaders must have loyalty from followers, which requires that followers trust and respect their leaders. What does a leader do, then, when serving the group means abandoning a loyal follower?

Far too many leaders — in the corporate world, in government, in non-profits and elsewhere — choose the individual. It is a seductive choice. People are flesh and blood, while organizations are concepts and legal entities. We admire loyalty, and it is difficult to criticize a leader who is loyal to those loyal to him. Choosing the individual can also be rationalized as a good long-term decision: yes, the organization may be harmed at the moment, but backing the individual now will pay off in the future with a happier, more loyal, more dedicated work-force. And sometimes, that’s true.

This is why choosing organization goals over the best interest of a loyal follower takes judgement, timing, and most of all, courage. Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia faced this dilemma head-on recently, when pitcher Jered Weaver found himself trailing 1-0 after six innings of a game against the L.A. Dodgers, despite not giving up a hit. A no-hitter is a prime career achievement for any major league pitcher, bringing with it national media attention, endorsements, money, and immortality. Once a pitcher gets into the seventh inning with a no-hitter intact, the quest become serious: for a manager to take a pitcher out of the game at this point is extremely rare, and generally considered gratuitous cruelty.

But Scioscia’s job is to win as many games as possible, not to burnish his pitcher’s reputation. The Dodger pitcher looked like he wasn’t going to be easy to score on either, so when the Angels had a threat in the 7th with two outs and Weaver scheduled to bat, the manager picked the team over the player. He pinch-hit for his pitcher (Note to the baseball ignorant: most pitchers can’t hit any better than you can), thus killing Weaver’s dreams of fame and fortune, at least on this day. The tactic was futile. The pinch-hitter made an out, and although the Angels bullpen never gave up a hit, the game was lost.

Weaver, to his credit, didn’t fault his manager, at least publicly. Scioscia made the correct and ethical choice, a choice that leaders have to make, and can stand as an example to, for instance, any U.S. President who hesitates removing from office a loyal friend who has been exposed as a blatantly inept Attorney General and has lost all respect and credibility. Some things trump loyaltyÂ…like doing your job.

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