Mad Leadership Skills

Author: Jeffrey J. Anderson

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

There’s something special about the way Joe Maddon manages the Chicago Cubs. People marvel at it, but it’s not something that happened on accident. I don’t know Joe Maddon, but I know the face he projects to the team and to the public. And, figuring out what makes him a great leader could have a major impact in the business world.

What I see most clearly is the high level of trust and engagement Maddon has developed between himself and the players. These are young, big-ego guys, yet he’s managed to become a leader that these players want to follow. They wear goofy outfits on road trips and party in the locker room with disco balls, but they also respect when Maddon asks them to play a different position or changes the lineup. More importantly, they trust him to make those tough decisions.

Maddon has said that most of his job is really being a psychologist and you can see this in the way he interacts with the team and connects with his players. His focus on human interaction and building relationships with others is at the core of his effectiveness. The deliberate actions Madden takes are emblematic of his leadership style.

  • He communicates with clarity. Although Joe Maddon is a deep thinker, he’s able to distill his ideas into well-defined and precise messages. In post-game interviews, players are quick to quote him. “Joe says…” followed by one of his nuggets of wisdom: “It’s not going to be an oil painting every night. You can’t be perfect,” or Joe’s comment after coming back to beat the Giants in the NLDS, “We don’t quit. We play all 27 outs.”
  • He walks the walk. The first time that Maddon interacts with a player, he says, “You have my respect, and I have to earn yours.” He’s explicit about it, and that’s really refreshing. From then on and always, he is true to his word. He stands in the same spot at every game, modeling positivity, tranquility and confidence no matter what happens. He tells players that no one’s perfect and he forgives himself for mistakes. Before one game, he told the team he wanted them to stay loose, so he catered brunch at Wrigley instead of holding practice.
  • He puts the human element first. In a business that’s often intense and unforgiving, Maddon always considers how his actions are going to affect the people he works with as well as the organization’s culture. Technical aspects of the game come second. He needs to make tough decisions, but because players trust that Maddon has their best interests at heart, they’ve learned to be flexible and count on his leadership.

Being able to engage others effectively is one of the key principles of leadership. It’s a purposeful skill that’s the result of consistently maintaining a high-level of self-awareness and emotional regulation, as well as inspiring trust.  There’s a lot more to Maddon’s leadership style than the ability to engage others, but it’s the human connections he makes and the integrity he exudes that has truly changed the Cubs into a strong and agile organization – making him a leader to emulate.


Jeff Anderson, President & CEO, LFGSMJeffrey J. Anderson is the 5th President and CEO of Lake Forest Graduate School of Management (LFGSM). Prior to joining the School in October 2014, Mr. Anderson served as an Associate Dean for Leadership Development at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. At Booth, Anderson harnessed his business experience to bring a practical, proven perspective to the leadership development curriculum.

Mr. Anderson is also a co-founder and partner at The Chatham Group, a consulting advisory firm that he launched in 2003. He has worked with senior executives in the distribution, consumer product, energy, investment banking, consulting, telecommunication and automotive industries. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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