With the Atlanta Braves loss against the San Francisco Giants in game 4 of the National League Divisional Series, the career of a baseball legend ended.
Bobby Cox is one of only four Major Leagues Baseball managers ever to reach more than 2.500 career wins and he won two World Series (1977 and 1995). However, he will also be remembered for another figure: 161 – the number of rejections during his career (thereof 158 in regular seasons and 3 in playoffs).
For those of you not familiar with baseball and/ or Bobby Cox this may sound like Cox is a rude, aggressive, unrelaxed man. In fact he is not. Most of his rejections came in situations in which his players were getting angry and Cox stepped in to prevent them from being rejected, taking the decision (and the fine) in their place.
There’s a lot to learn about leadership from Bobby Cox. Whenever his team was about to lose focus because of “bad” umpire decisions (or, more abstract, hindering factors beyond their control), he enabled them to fully concentrate on their business by taking over responsibility and getting in charge of the negative, disturbing part.
Cox knows that the best leaders excel at creating an environment that enables their teams to do a good job. Most probably in many situations in which he argued with the umpires, Cox didn’t even believe their decision was wrong. But by picking up the complaints his players had, he also showed them his support. No matter how hard Bobby Cox challenged his players behind closed doors, he always made clear that he supported the team against anybody from outside. His team knew it and had a lot of trust in him.
This leadership lesson is so simple: Show unequivocal support to your team, protect them from external threats by fighting these in their place and by doing so create a work environment that enables the team to deliver their best.
Yet it seems like many are afraid of being rejected, of getting the beating, of looking bad, maybe even of showing emotions.
That’s what made Bobby Cox a great manager: Knowing that the success of the team is more important than his personal vanity.
The good news is that once this line is crossed, it’s not an issue anymore. One example from 2006 perfectly shows how relaxed Cox was about it. When his right-fielder Jeff Francoeur was rejected together with him, Cox told Francoeur: “Go have a couple of cold beers and get in the cold tub or something and relax. And then you’ll probably have to write a $500 check. Or you can do what I do, write a $10,000 one and tell them when it runs out, let me know”.
A great leader has retired. The game of baseball, his players and maybe even the umpires will miss Bobby Cox.