The theory of leadership dates back to the 1920s when an interest in management as a science began to appear for the first time. One of the very first areas that the researchers paid attention to was – how people shape into leaders and if there was any possible existence of common traits of character. On the basis of many prominent figures of the past and present, modern sciences (psychology, sociology, management, political science) are trying to develop a unique set of leadership qualities and skills to help a person to reveal their potential and be realized in life as a leader. One of the researchers of this topic Cohen (1990) describes the leadership as an art of impacting followers to their maximum performance in achieving tasks, goals or accomplishing particular projects. An approach to study the qualities of a leader in terms of characteristics of their personality was determined by the theories of leadership. To uncover some of these leadership theories I chose one of my favorite movies – “Moneyball” (2011), directed by Bennett Miller.
Moneyball is a biographical sports drama based on real events about the general manager of Oakland baseball team “Oakland Athletics” Billy Beane, who set himself an impossible goal at that time – to create a competitive baseball team, despite the financial difficulties.
After the Oakland Athletics loss to the New York Yankees baseball team in the playoffs of the 2001 season, the team loses many key players, who had been lured by richer clubs.
The General Manager of “Athletics” Billy Beane was forced to seek a substitute among less fortunate and talented baseball players and to create a competitive team for the 2002 season with quite limited financial opportunities. Billy Beane was good at school in baseball and American football, his athleticism, and perfect body portrayed him as a future superstar in the eyes of scouts. Choosing between a career of a professional baseball player and the Stanford University scholarship, he chooses baseball. Despite the assurances of the baseball scouts, who foretold him a brilliant future, his career was unsuccessful. Unable to reconcile being neglected and the time spent on the bench, he completes a player’s career and moves to work in the main office as a general manager, and here begins his journey as a leader.
This film is not only a sports drama but a delightful film that reveals such important topics of leadership. With the help of this film and the main character, I would like to emphasize the important leadership qualities such as the ability to recognize and understand the essence of the problem, to be ready for the grandiose changes and risk, and the ability to quickly navigate in any difficult situation, and of course communication skills and the ability to direct a team.
During the film, Billy Beane’s leadership styles change from transactional style, into authoritarian style and from authoritarian to transformational style depending on the situation. Billy Beane’s extraordinary leadership journey with numerous ups and down has truly demonstrated different styles and inspired me.
Billy Beane as a Transactional leader
According to the definition given by Bass (1985), transactional leaders prefer to work in areas which are framed with confirmed rules and focus on the process rather than the substance as a controlling factor, and more effective coherent and foreseeable situations. Here are some of the characteristics of transactional leaders: focused on short-term goals, favor structured policies and procedures, thrive on following the rules and doing things correctly, revel in efficiency, opposed to changes.
At the beginning of the film, Billy acts as a Transactional leader. He tries to follow the established rules of analysis and selection of players and management stereotypes in baseball. He appeals to the president of the club but receives a refusal to increase the budget, holds meetings with the scouts in the hope of finding good players at such a low budget. But he quickly realizes that there is a need for change in the approach to achieve good results. Sometimes using traditional methods can’t help in solving problems and you need to think differently.
Autocratic leadership style of Billy Beane
In 1939, Kurt Levin led a group of researchers who studied leadership. According to the result of this research an authoritarian leadership, also recognized as autocratic leadership is defined when leaders always clearly explain to people what to do, by what time the task should be performed and exactly how it should be performed. When making decisions, they practically do not take into account the point of view of other members of the group, as a result of which there are often divergent views between them and those who follow orders (Lewin, 1939). Some of the primary characteristics of the autocratic leadership include: group members do not contribute sufficiently, some of them have no contributions at all, the majority of decisions are made by leaders, all methods and processes at work are dictated by the leaders of groups.
Autocratic leadership style doesn’t have a good reputation in today’s democratic and participatory work environment. However, an autocratic leadership still has its benefits. A knowledgeable autocratic leader can provide innovative ideas to an organization and a team, creating a whole set of new ways to succeed – the history has proven this. Henry Ford, Martha Stewart, and McDonald’s Ray Kroc are popular examples of autocratic leaders, who have achieved great success in business.
Billy Beane’s approach as an autocratic leader starts when he hires his assistant Peter Brand, a young Yale University economics graduate, who offers an innovative theory for calculating the usefulness of players based on the indicators of their personal statistics. After testing his theory, Beane decides to use it as a new strategy to select team players. In the meeting with scouts, he introduces the new strategy, but no one accepts the new strategy and most of them try to convince him that it would not work in the baseball world and the best way is to stick to the proven traditional strategy. Despite all objections, Bean completely changes the rules and strategy in selecting new players for “Athletics”.
Another example of his authoritarian leadership, when Beane faces refusal from the head coach of “Athletics” Art Howe to follow the new strategy in composition to play specific players at the certain position in the baseball field. Art Howe leaves the newcomers out of the game by justifying that he disagrees with Beane’s thinking and that he thinks that the new players are too risky to be position at important posts on the field. Being conscious of these tensions with the coach, Bean decides to sell the “rising stars” in order to tie Howe’s hands and force him to launch new players on to the field.
Despite the fact that no one believed in his strategy, Beane made strong-hand decisions and took full responsibility.
Billy Beane as a Transformational leader
A transformational leadership is when leaders show preparedness to change the status quo, recognize and support new ideas and energize these ideas with actions, take risks in order to achieve new results. They don’t use punishment for failure, contrarily encourage followers to learn from their mistakes (Kouzes ; Posner, 2002). The transformational leader needs strategic thinking, the habit of constantly running ahead of the curve, seeing the problem where it has not yet appeared.
Regardless of a good strategy and a combination in the game, the team loses the first 14 matches. By analyzing the situation Billy Beane realizes that the players of the team are not engaged, do not understand the strategy well, and some of them were not sure of their abilities. Beane before now avoided communicating with the players because it might cause the bounding with them and make difficult to trade them to other clubs. He begins coaching the players and starts spending time and communicating with players, explains in detail the strategy of the game for each position, telling his beliefs in them. And most importantly, he inspires confidence, motivates and shows his respect to every player in the team. As a result of the enormous changes in the rules, strategies and attitudes towards players “Oakland Athletics” wins twenty games in a row, thereby setting a record in the American Baseball League. Such an accomplishment is in my opinion, a case in point for Abraham Lincoln’s famous words, “a failure is not considered a failure if you learned a lesson”, who unsuccessfully ran for the US Senate office many times but ended up getting elected as the US president instead.
Another remarkable demonstration of Billy Beane’s transformational leadership approach was seen when he rejects the chance to become the general manager of Red Sox team, despite $12.5 million annual salary, which would have made him the highest-paid general manager in baseball history.
To conclude, the main leadership lessons that I discovered from this movie are identifying and understanding the real issue, thinking differently and making outside-the-box decisions when required, willing to change the conventional wisdom and confirmed rules in order to get the best results, the ability to communicate, motivate, and coach followers. All these qualities and characteristics are not inherent to one specific leadership style. The main character of the film changed his leadership style all the time, depending on the situation in order to achieve his goals. Based on this, it can be concluded that effective leaders do not adhere to a certain style of leadership but rather adapt their styles in accordance with the situation. A leadership is a journey, not a destination.
I would like to finish with this powerful quote: “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”? Albert Einstein.