By Steve Adubato, PhD
"Mets Ponder Position on Piazza" (Star Ledger) "Mets Blow It Again. Announce Piazza Will Begin Shift to First-Before Telling Him" (NY Post)
Excuse another example from the world of baseball on how not to lead and communicate in the world of business, but the case of Mike Piazza and the Mets is too good to ignore. This is a story about the Mets and their star player Mike Piazza, whose days as a catcher are numbered and will soon be playing first base. But the lesson here is relevant for any manager who must show true leadership by communicating difficult news to an important team member for the overall good of the team.
There has been talk about Piazza playing first base for years. His legs are old, his arm is tired and his bat is more valuable to the Mets if he plays the less strenuous position of first base. (All managers must regularly consider who on their team should be playing what position at a certain time based on a variety of factors.) Yet, Mets management apparently was reluctant to talk directly to Piazza about the move. They allowed the media as well as the rumor mill to drive the situation, thereby causing them to lose control. Piazza was constantly asked about the move, but he responded that the Mets leadership had never spoken to him about it.
Well, the Mets did what so many organizations do. They stuck their head in the sand hoping that a nagging problem would magically go away. That's just not good leadership. Wishful thinking is no substitute for the hard work of strategic planning. One of the first tenets of any leaders game plan should be the willingness to make tough decisions and in turn communicate those decisions to those who need to know about it-BEFORE someone else tells them.
When confronted by the media, who had been tipped off by someone in Mets management about the move, Piazza was taken aback and stated in the Star Ledger, "We all got to get on the same page. I told them I would do whatever needs to be done for the organization…" It shouldn't have been that hard to get on the same page on such an important issue. Airing your dirty laundry is embarrassing at best. Yet, communicating with a key player like Piazza through third parties was unacceptable and created unnecessary turmoil and resentment.
What the Mets should have done is broach the subject with Piazza in the off season (timing matters) when both parties could look at the situation with more objectivity. Being up front and candid with Piazza about the move to first base may have still angered him, but it would have allowed him the time necessary to come to grips with the issue. It would have also allowed all parties to communicate a united front and allowed Piazza to gradually and gracefully gain the skills and tools necessary to move into the new position.
Again, this isn't really about baseball, but rather about the need for managers in any organization to communicate honestly about what must be done for their team to succeed. Change is hard, but sometimes it is necessary. Great managers not only accept change, they lead and embrace it and effectively communicate the need for change to key team members. They don't hide or duck the tough situations. Rather, they step up and are accountable. When these things are done, even though there is some pain, things tend to work out a lot better. Mets management missed a golden opportunity to demonstrate real leadership when it really mattered.