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Manage your managers, not their staff

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Last year, when the Washington Nationals were still a mediocre baseball team, a player pitched a fit with his manager, Jim Riggleman, in the dugout.

Players don’t argue with managers, especially in public. Mike Rizzo, the general manager, thought it might be time for a team meeting.

First, though, he called consultant Davey Johnson.

“Bad idea,” Johnson said.

The general manager respects Johnson, who has won three World Series, two as a player and one as a manager. Johnson’s record of turning around losing teams includes taking the New York Mets from scraping bottom in 1983 to World Series champs in 1986.

Johnson’s advice: “Your place is to manage the manager. It’s the manager’s job to manage the staff. Meet with Jimmy. Pump him up. Make him feel at ease.”

The next morning, Rizzo met with Riggleman, told him to fix the problem and offered his full support.

About a month later, Riggleman suddenly quit.

It was a pickle, but Rizzo had a re­­placement: Davey Johnson, who met the team in Chicago and greeted each player with the words, “It’s going to be OK.” Then he smiled for the rest of the season as the Nats swept the league-leading Philadelphia Phillies and knocked the Atlanta Braves out of the playoffs.

At the end of the season, Rizzo asked Johnson who should manage the team in 2012.

“I recommended myself,” Johnson says. “I was perfect.”

He was. This season, the Nats have stood at or near the top of their division because they have a skipper who knows how to lead.

— Adapted from “Davey Johnson: On Top of His Game,” Harry Jaffe, Washingtonian.

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