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Gastelum: Maddon teaches new leadership (April 26)

Andrew Gastelum | Friday, April 26, 2013

 

I’ve always had a soft spot for the dude who just likes to have fun and shoot the you-know-what without a worry.

So naturally, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon is one of my favorite coaches of all-time.

Maybe it’s the fact that he has mad spec-swag – have you seen his assortment of glasses? Or maybe it’s because he comes from a family of Italian immigrants – his last name was changed from Maddoni and he’s a connoisseur of fine wines. But it might be just because he got his break in southern California – he was interim manager of the California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels of Kalamazoo twice.

But now I’ve actually learned why. When his team slogged its way through a painstaking 2-7 road trip, Maddon brought the fun back into the clubhouse. And by fun, I mean penguins, cockatiels, local magicians and DJ Fresh.

He just wanted to keep his team loose, fresh and give them just a second of respite from the depths and daggers of mental stress and internal critique. Sure it’s silly of Maddon, but self-depreciating humor is the greatest, most selfless kind. Making those around you feel better about themselves by laughing is innocuous and warm.

It’s one atypical sign of a good leader, and a guy who just plain likes to have a ball while his team tries to hit one out of the park.

For Maddon, every second his team spent laughing was a second not spent in deep thought and self-critique of what they could possibly do to swing things around.

It also helps to look back and see his team has gone 5-1 since the addition of his antics.

But what happens when things don’t go right, when the tides and the tables can’t be turned and an attempt at liveliness becomes the last gasp?

In sports, especially, that could be your final move. A leader is nothing without the reciprocated support of his or her team, and we’ve seen where the loyalties of front offices and most fans lie.

Remember the legendary Jerry Sloan? Six division titles, two NBA Finals appearances and 2,024 wins couldn’t keep Deron Williams from getting the best of him and his job.

Five hundred wins wearing a Red Sox uniform and breaking the Curse of the Bambino with not one, not five, not six, not seven, but two World Series rings couldn’t help Terry Francona. He lost control of the clubhouse in 2011 and lost his lineup card soon after.

Regardless of the accomplishments you’ve notched in any leadership position, the people around you always determine your fate. It’s a rather dreary way of thinking, but you can also think of it in terms of caring for the people whose job it is to care about what they do for you. As a leader, if you don’t genuinely care about these people then you shouldn’t be in the position to start.

In general, leaders don’t have to have the fiery temper of a Lou Piniella or the intimidation of a Bob Knight to be respected. Because here, there is always a divide in the connection and bond one can form with those around him or her. It’s safe to be distant and feared in order to gain respect, but it may not always be what’s best.

But the hard-nosed, rigid Bobby Valentine replaced Francona in Boston with his stubborn my-way-or-the-highway mentality, which resulted in one of the biggest blemishes in recent Red Sox memory.

Sometimes as a leader, you gain more respect for the compassion, work ethic and humility you show those around you than for the callous, authoritarian pedestal and the ego that comes with it. Determination and energy are contagious, and inspiration combined with friendship is a thoughtlessly thoughtful gift that can never fail.

It’s sad that exuberance, compassion and empathy can be perceived as a weakness, but Joe Maddon has proven that it works itself out in the end.

There will always be the detractors, the haters, the ones to whom you give your loyalty, who turn and spit venom to others while you put forth your fullest effort.

It’s as if doing the right thing wasn’t enough motivation, as if you needed some other incentive to prove what you can really do.

But that’s part of the veiled splendor of sports. There is always a winner and a loser, a win column and a loss column and a statistic to prove any point.

Sure, in simple normalcy, there isn’t a win column and a loss column or a Hall of Fame to show your worth. But there is always a caring team around, given you were always there for them. And no matter what anyone else can try to do, they will always be there to carry you along and make it all worth it.

Therein lies the win column of leadership, and the Hall of Fame of an unbroken bond.

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.