Thursday, October 27, 2011

Moneyball’s coaching lesson for in-house counsel

Moneyball is the antithesis of this blog, thematically speaking.  The theme of the movie (and the book) is using analytics and statistics to get an edge on the competition.  The theme of this blog is in-house counsel using leadership and coaching to get an edge in performance.  Such differences aside, Moneyball provides a lesson in coaching well worth a mention.

In the movie, Brad Pitt – portraying baseball Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane – exhibits the characteristics of a bad boss.  He is manipulative, secretive, and autocratic – to name a few of his overstrengths.

But Beane also has his moments as an effective coach (in the clubhouse, not in the dugout).  Smart analytics aside, the team chemistry of the A’s is not working.  So Beane (Pitt) begins to administer some one-on-one personal coaching – seeking to inspire, support, and motivate individual ball players.  In one standout scene, Beane connects with outfielder David Justice (played by Stephen Bishop), who takes up Beane’s suggestion that it was time for Justice to start acting like the veteran he was and be a leader in the clubhouse.

Coaching takes many forms and has unlimited styles.  There is no effective substitute for coaching – taking the time to give feedback to your direct reports, with the objective of influencing their work behaviors, personal competencies, and performance.

The personal coaching of the David Justice character should have been provided by dugout manager Art Howe (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), who was the direct supervisor of the ball players.  But Beane and Howe were not on the same page and their relationship lacked trust, due to a combination of Beane’s bad boss tendencies and Howe's stubbornness.  So Beane does an end-around Howe.

Some of you may have experienced this in your work environment, where the boss of your supervisor (or your co-worker's supervisor) gets directly involved in coaching indirect reports in an attempt to influence the performance of the supervisor's team.  Sometimes it is effective, sometimes it is merely uncomfortable, and sometimes it is the harbinger of the eventual dismissal of the supervisor.

I won’t tell you the outcome of Beane's coaching, just in case you haven’t seen the movie or read the book.  But this movie moment is my excuse to remind readers that effective one-on-one coaching is a key to improving the performance of other and the success of your legal team, and for in-house counsel to be

A couple of endnotes:  First, I’m not sure how much of the movie is fact and how much is fictionalized, but see Art Howe feels sold out by "Moneyball'" portrayal and 'Moneyball' and the Oakland A's: Separating fact from Hollywood.  Second, for other leadership takeways on Moneyball, see:
This summary was prepared by Perry Cone and posted at

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