One more lesson from the 2012 Sox

The team’s dysfunctional culture starts at the top


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Last column -- after listing the litany of problems that plague the Red Sox -- I closed by saying that all the obvious maladies were merely symptoms of a dysfunctional corporate culture. And the hiring of John Farrell as manager seems consistent with an organization that doesn’t recognize what truly ails it.

Not to pick on Farrell, but does anyone think that he can gain control of this club? In two years with Toronto he went 81-81 and 73-89. Rumor was that Toronto wished to rid themselves of Farrell and the Red Sox were eager to oblige them.

I understand that Farrell is familiar with the Red Sox and that the pitching staff flourished under his leadership. But culturally, he is “more of the same.”

The most interesting thing I gleaned from business school was that organizations have cultures. To effectively manage an organization, it is critical to recognize the makeup of its culture. And 25 years in the trenches has taught me that culture is one of the most difficult things to change.

As if the egos of professional athletes aren’t inflated enough, it seems that winning went to the Red Sox players’ heads. In sports, when leadership is weak, winning has a tendency to put the power in the player’s hands. Combine weak leadership with a disregard for the chain of command, and the result is that the inmates run the asylum.

Bobby Valentine was a dubious managerial choice. However, he was put in a no-win situation. Knowing that senior management would not have Valentine’s back, the players were never going to take him seriously. Culturally, this is one of the worst environments an organization can cultivate.

The result was that the players could act with impunity. Eating chicken and drinking beer while on the job was acceptable because no one in management cared otherwise.

The culture of any organization comes from the very top. The owner/CEO is the sole determinant of a company’s culture. Middle management and the frontline workers simply react to the existing culture.

If Red Sox owner John Henry or team president Larry Lucchino felt it was important to maintain a modicum of discipline, perhaps the team would have been more competitive. Instead, they gave the players free rein and basically told all levels of management that whatever the players do is acceptable. Good luck with that.

It would be easy to say that in professional sports you need top talent to win. That’s also a common argument on Wall Street. That’s how financiers justify their absurd compensation packages. How can I put this diplomatically -- but that is a load of manure.

Case in point: the St Louis Cardinals. They let Albert Pujols -- arguably the best player in the game -- leave because they thought signing him would not be in the best long-term interest of the organization. That speaks volumes about the culture of the Cardinals. It says that no individual is more important than the team. The result is that St. Louis came within one game of returning to the World Series.

Respect for the chain of command, integrity, dedication to your craft -- these are cultural traits that must be developed by leadership. Not through words, but actions. As they say, talk is cheap, but employees invariably react to what they see, not what they hear.

In the case of the Red Sox, the players see a detached ownership group that shows little respect for the people they’ve put in charge. More damning, it’s ownership that seems to care little about winning as long as tickets sales remain robust.

Tony Paradiso of Wilton is an author, professor, entrepreneur, radio and TV commentator. His website is tonyparadiso.com.

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