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The Unique Leadership Style of Theo Epstein

Some people think leadership is all about education. Others think it’s all about experience. Most people would agree that leadership is certainly about both these things. But Theo Epstein, club president of the Chicago Cubs, thinks leadership is about something else entirely – winning.

According to Tom Verducci’s 2012 article in Forbes, Epstein stood before the Chicago Cubs organization and told them not only that the Cubs were going to win the World Series, but also how he intended to make that happen. Here’s a recap of what he said:

1. Stop relying on statistics-driven data. Everyone else is using this technique, so there’s no analytical edge if you are using the same procedure and getting similar data as everybody else. Understand the limits of using acquired information for making decisions.

2. Invest in relationships. The core players on a team often have long-term connections which are the glue in team-fostering. Acquire and nurture employees who are team-builders.

3. Research people’s character. Epstein spent huge amounts of time and research to find individual players who treated people kindly and coped with adversity in a positive manner. In other words, business leaders need to know that sales numbers and skill sets are not nearly as important as a person’s character.

Epstein did use data-driven analysis, but used it for finding and hiring players who had strengths in areas that most other baseball clubs did not prioritize, such as chemistry and, as we learned in kindergarten, “playing well with others.” Epstein looked at information such as:

  • how the person treated other people when no one else was looking
  • facts about a player’s family
  • how a player reacted to adversity

Epstein said it was all about connection and he was right! The Chicago Cubs did win the World Series putting him on top of the Forbes 2017 World’s Greatest Leaders list. If you’re interested in learning more about Epstein and his leadership beliefs, you can read his book The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse.