5 Lessons from Bruce Bochy

Friday, October 31, 2014

By Adam Kleinberg

Traction will be closed from noon to 2pm today. Despite the rain, the team will all be rambling on down Larkin Street to Civic Center for a chance to scream our heads of at the San Francisco Giants ticker tape parade.

I couldn't keep people at their desks if I tried.

With three rings in five years, no doubt Bruce Bochy will go down as one of the greatest managers of all time. I can only dream of being as great a creative agency manager as Bochy is a baseball manager. But as the Giants showed us Wednesday, sometimes dreams come true if you work hard enough. So, in that spirit, here are five lessons in management I've learned from the master.

1. Be cool as ice.

I can't imagine the tension. I could just imagine the pressure I'd feel telling myself, "I've got to get these guys to perform... right... damn... now...." How easy that intention could be to screw up!

Not for The Boche. Every single time the camera turned to him that entire Series from Game One of the Wild Card until the Royals had a man on 3rd, 2 outs, 2 strikes and was a pitch away from the pennant—every single time—he had the exact same expression on his face.

That man is cool as ice.

2. If it's not working, cut it.

Being a manager in baseball must be tough. You need to watch that pitcher like a hawk and the second your instincts tell you it's not working, you've got to pull the guy. It's like having to fire someone every day. It's all about the work, not feelings. It's a business that requires tough skin.

Developing creative is similar. The team needs tough skin. The person managing the people needs to listen to his or her gut, and if it's not working cut it. Not the people, but if the work isn't there, you need to recognize it, cut it, move on.

I remember years ago working for a creative director. The work I had designed was getting reshaped before my eyes—into something better I now have to admit—but at the moment, I was incredibly frustrated. She looked at me and said, "you're just in love with your baby. It's growing. Run with it."

She knew it, I didn't like it, she cut it anyway, and we won. The client loved the final work—even if it didn't look anything like what I had started with. Bochy would have done the same.

3. Embrace weirdos.

Hunter Pence looks like Bill the Cat. Panda looks like a panda. In a lot of ways, the Giants are as much a cast of characters as they are a team of players. Bochy welcomes that. The past 5 years have been such a parade of personality, it's like he seeks that out in his players.

I believe when you give talented people who may not fit the typical mold a place to thrive, you give them more than a team to play on. You give them a home.

In Traction's Employee Handout that we give out to new people on their first day, there's a section called "Being Yourself" that says:

It's really okay. We like it. Whatever your self may be, we want you to feel free to embrace it—whether that means you're a punk or a princess, goth or gay, Trekkie or Mommy, suit & tie or cut-offs & flip flops. If it makes you comfortable, go for it.
People talk about "culture" a lot. Traction has a great one. But culture is not a drum kit in the office. It's about how we treat one another, our shared beliefs and vision.

I'd like to the think Mr. Bochy would agree.

4. Lean on your hero in the stretch.

Madison. Bumgarner. What can you say? I mean, the man gives being a Giant and entire new frame of reference.

In any great organization, there are people of great talent. This week for the Giants, Mad Bum was the hero. On other nights, other Giants have stepped up big. While people will be talking about Bumgarner's feat closing Game 7 on 2 days rest, Bruce Bochy's decision to put him in was immense as well.

It's not fair or sustainable to make your best people work the hardest day in and day out. It would have been unthinkable on any other day to put Bumgarner back in. That day it was the best decision in the world.

Sometimes your team needs a hero. Don't make it a habit, but if someone is in the zone and it's stretch time, ride that pony to the finish line!

5. Commit like a boss.

Mad Bum in Game 7 is big enough to make a second point. Know when to commit. Throughout that game, Bochy was keeping options open. His decision to start Hudson? Not committed to it. Look, there's Timmy in the bullpen! Never gets the nod.

Bumgarner on the mound in the 8th. Who's in the bullpen? Nobody.

It would have been a simple, cautious maneuver thing to keep someone loose just in case. Instead, he made a statement. We are on this road.

The competition must have been scared to death.

About the author
Adam Kleinberg

Adam Kleinberg is CEO and and a founding partner of Traction. He has written over 75 articles in publications like AdAge, Adweek, Fast Company, Forbes, Mashable and Digiday.

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