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Emotional intelligence from the bullpen

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

It’s not just players who can change the game. Leaders can, too.

Take Zack Greinke, one of the hottest pitchers in baseball. Greinke never liked pitching as much as he liked hitting, but he is a supremely gifted pitcher, so that’s what he does.

He’s been streaky, though. Four years ago, Greinke hated pitching so much that he had to play little mind games to stay engaged. He was miserable.

In desperation, he went to his bosses, general manager Allard Baird and manager Buddy Bell, and told them he needed a timeout from baseball.

Players almost never take themselves out of the game. And baseball managers aren’t known for compassion. Texas manager Billy Martin once told a player he couldn’t attend his father-in-law’s funeral because “that’s not immediate family.”

That’s the culture. But Baird and Bell told their pitcher to go home and stop thinking about baseball.

“There’s business and there’s personal,” says Baird. “In this situation, we were talking something bigger than business. There’s right and wrong.”

Greinke took a couple of months off, got an anxiety disorder diagnosed and treated, and then made his way back through the minor leagues, honing his pitches.

Lesson: Consider the merits—not what’s been done before—when your players ask for something off-the-wall. What made Baird and Bell leaders were their openness to change.

— Adapted from “Zack Greinke Is In Total Control,” Joe Posnanski, Sports Illustrated.

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