Joe Maddon and the Art of Jewish Leadership

Last night I watched my beloved Chicago Cubs win a truly strange baseball game. After falling behind early, with a new pitcher on the team allowing three two-run home runs in the first three innings, the Cubbies caught up in the bottom of the ninth inning, and went on to win in the 12th inning.


Some of the highlights:

Pitcher Travis Wood got the Cubs out of a jam in the 6th inning. In order to keep him in the game, manager Joe Maddon moved him to left field, where he made a spectacular catch, then returned to pitch the Cubs out of another jam.

Hector Rondon, recently replaced as the Cubs closer, wasn’t supposed to pitch at all. But when the game went into overtime, he pitched two great innings and earned the win.

The Cubs used every position player, with some playing two or even three positions during the course of the game. When position players were depleted, Joe went to his pitching staff for pinch hitters.

The close of the game was Joe Maddon calling on Jon Lester, a career .051 hitter, to bat with a runner on 3rd in the 12th. With two strikes against him, Lester laid down a bunt, batting in the winning run.


Today, media (including social media) is abuzz with praise and disbelief of Joe Maddon. He’s being called a miracle worker, iconoclast, genius and more. He’s also, correctly, being seen as a great leader, which he is.

Here’s what we can and should learn, as Jewish communal leaders, from Joe Maddon:

  • There is no inherent value in being an iconoclast. There is, however, great value in not accepting the status quo as being necessarily the best way to get things done. Challenging “the way we’ve always done it” makes sense in a world of change. And if “the way we’ve always done it” leads to a 100+ year absence from the World Series, then for sure the time has come to question conventional wisdom and practice.
  • Make sure your people (professionals and volunteers) know how to do more than one thing. The Travis Woods of our organizations will be the superstars.
  • Have a strong bench. We may have great staffs or great boards. But unless we have great people waiting to jump in, we risk depleting our human resources when the going gets tough.
  • Make bold moves and take calculated risks. You never know whether that .051 hitter can lay down a game-winning walk-off RBI bunt unless you give him a shot.
  • Bring fun back into your Jewish organization game. Joe Maddon, when interviewed after the game said, “I hope you enjoyed it”. Right. It’s sports. A game. You’re supposed to have fun watching it and even playing it.  While Jewish communal life is not a game, it should include joy and celebration.
  • Be purpose driven. When Joe told Javier Baez jokingly to “try not to suck”, it went from being a joke to becoming a fundraiser for Maddon’s foundation. And, as any good leader, behind him are players who have been encouraged to pursue their own charitable and volunteer good works.

Maybe Joe Maddon and his team will bring a championship to Chicago, maybe not. But he has already blessed us with some wisdom about what it means to lead.


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