- Your predecessor is widely considered a legend in the industry
- Your company has just completed a stellar year- is there anywhere else to go but down?
- Your best employee leaves the organization as you arrive
This string of challenges might make for entertaining lyrics to a country music song, but they also are the reality that Mike Matheny faced when he was named manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in late 2011. To recap the environment around him upon being named manager:
- Matheny replaced Tony LaRussa, a beloved manager who had led the Cardinals to two World Series titles.
- The Cardinals had just beaten the Texas Rangers to win the 2011 World Series. No team has repeated as champions since the New York Yankees won three titles in row between 1998 and 2000.
- Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, also a beloved figure in St. Louis and the team's best player for a decade, left for the Los Angeles Angels.
The stage was set for Mike Matheny to fail, so it seemed. But, the team the Cardinals are in the National League Championship Series for the second straight year with Matheny at the helm.
A Servant Leader
Mike Matheny makes clear the reason he has enjoyed success as a Major League manager: The practice of servant leadership. After his playing days as a catcher, Matheny learned about a practice known as servant leadership. Rather than leading by exerting authority, a servant leader puts other people's interests ahead of his or her own. Matheny's style is to build rapport with players from top stars down to minor leaguers vying for a spot on the Cardinals roster. He instills confidence in young players and reassures players that are struggling to play to their potential. Matheny advocates servant leadership because it "makes other people better. When you make other people better, and you set your mind on how to focus on someone outside yourself, you create something pretty special."
Can You Win by Being Last?
On the surface, servant leadership seems to go against most of the advice given to advance one's career- "look out for number one" and "build your personal brand" suggest a focus on ourselves, not others. Notice what servant leadership is not- it is not about letting others use you and your talents at your expense. Instead, servant leadership advances the interests of a group, team, or organization by empowering individuals. You win when the group wins. There is no doubt who is in charge of the St. Louis Cardinals. Mike Matheny has created a culture not based on traditional top-down managing but rather a mindset that individual players are valued contributors to the team's success. Matheny has proven that you can be first (literally) by putting the interests and needs of others ahead of your own.