When it’s never your fault, you’re a blind leader

I have been known to write about the Phillies and their flawed general manager in the past. Maybe I’ve said enough, but this week the lessons from his horrendous leadership are too valuable not to talk about.

Always remember Ruben is smarter than you
It seems like there has never been an executive of one of our major sports franchises that has so many leadership missteps, yet is still employed. The story has been the same: Ruben Amaro, Jr.’s arrogance has led him to sign former stars to unmovable contracts and has blamed everyone but himself. Last summer it was all of the other teams who wouldn’t trade with him. Attendance is lower than it has been in years because the team is just unwatchable. With that said, there is hope in the farm system and that excites me.

But still, Ruben Amaro, Jr., the man who inherited a great baseball team and has diminished it into nothing, has recently turned his back on the very people on which his team relies: the fans. As some of you know, insulting the fan base is a great way to get thrown out of town. It seems to me like Phillies’ leadership doesn’t care about them because even if there’s just 15,000 people populating their 42,000-capacity stadium, they are still making money, thanks to their lucrative deal with Comcast. Now they don’t have to “appease” fans, and their leaders can just insult them.

Phillies’ prospective pitcher Zach Eflin
Here’s what Ruben said to Jim Salisbury earlier this week (thanks Crossing Broad for the quote) when asked about why he hasn’t brought up prospective pitchers like Eflin and Nola:

“[The fans] don’t understand the game,” Amaro said. “They don’t understand the process. There’s a process. And then they bitch and complain because we don’t have a plan. There’s a plan in place and we’re sticking with the plan. We can’t do what’s best for the fan. We have to do what’s best for the organization so the fan can reap the benefit of it later on. That’s the truth.”

Maybe Ruben didn’t have a good night’s sleep. Maybe he didn’t eat that day. But this is a major mess up. I’m not sure Ruben has a plan besides insulting his fans and cashing Comcast’s checks, really. Maybe his plan is to drive ticket sales lower. Maybe he’s a Groupon invester.  Regardless of his attempt at back-pedaling, there’s no denying what he said. He very well may be on his way out and confused about what to do next. A GM who insults his supporters is probably going to get the boot.

Honestly, the fans aren’t the most rational people. But it isn’t Ruben’s job to tell them that. The consensus among the local experts is that Ruben doesn’t have a plan. The Phillies collapse was predicted well before it happened (in ’12 and ’13 when we tried to give it another shot instead of selling high), and moreover, his arrogance is just unattractive.

The fans are demanding, that’s for sure, but leaders who blame their constituents for their problems are a little exhausting. It’s easy to do it, though. The demand to win and perform is high. Leaders can sometimes get away with being arrogant, if their mistakes aren’t manifested in a terrible baseball team. But unfortunately Ruben’s sins aren’t so easily covered up.

Honestly, Christians really aren’t much better. Earlier this month when Pew released the study that showed that more and more people are not calling themselves Christians (an eight percent drop in the last seven years), Evangelical Christians came to its defense. Ed Stetzer said nominals are becoming nones, but the church is still healthy. The same story from this web comic. Certainly an interesting comic, but still another defense of American Evangelical Christianity. Honestly, I think the Evangelical nominals haven’t become nones yet, but they will. This study portends of something worse for Evangelicals down the line. I’m amazed at how little Christians want to learn. They remind me of Ruben Amaro, Jr.

Aaron Nola’s arm may be the Phillies’ answer
Jesus offers leaders a way free of their own demands and subsequently not blame everyone else for their problems. Jesus demands all of us, but then gives us eternity in response. Honestly, I don’t know how a leader leads who doesn’t follow Jesus, but merely following Jesus doesn’t preclude us from the kind of blame that Ruben Amaro so angrily placed on his supporters. Here’s what we can do when we are angry and we are ready to blame someone else for our problems.

  1. Feel oppressed by the world’s demand, and own your anger. It’s easy to transfer that anger onto others (like the fans). Start with the feeling and owning it. When you know it’s yours, you be free from the demand. Let Jesus give you eternity.
  2. Rather than just blaming someone, take responsibility for your actions. You know what goes longer than blame? An apology. We need to own our mistakes and apologize. Leading with humility, even if we are successful, is always better than with arrogance.
  3. Repent, finally. You can be as humble as you want, but if you don’t change your actions, your fan base might not be upset with you because of your arrogance, but the product on the field may still stink. Put another way, you could never get defensive, always be humble, but never wise enough to change. Move in the other direction.

Truth be told, Ruben Amaro Jr. is blind. Blind to his own flaws and mistakes. The emperor has no clothes and he is blaming the people who are telling him that. If nothing else, I’m thankful that Ruben Amaro, Jr. keeps showing us the consequences of colossally bad leadership. But I am sorry it’s at the expense of my favorite team.

I hope these lessons are as effective for baseball general managers, as they are for our pastors and leadership team. Let me know what you think.

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