Moneyball is a great movie about leadership—and based on a true story.

Setting the stage:

Billy Beanne (Brad Pitt) is the GM for the Oakland A’s baseball team. He has a tiny budget for players, putting him at a major disadvantage in big league baseball. He hires Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to help him with team strategy. Brand is not a baseball guy at all, but an economics graduate from Yale. Despite the fact that baseball is a very old game, set in its ways, and highly resistant to change, Billy Beanne bets on Brand’s radical strategy.

David & Goliath:

There is a great David & Goliath moment about 10 minutes into the movie. The recruiters are trying to replace a major player they have lost with another player that has the same skills. Beanne points out that they can’t afford any other player with those same skills: “If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there.” That is, if we try to recruit like the Yankees, we will lose to the Yankees out on the field. The lesson: You can’t compete against your rich competitor by trying to outspend him, i.e., by trying to beat him in his area of biggest strength. Not a new idea, but very well said (in this movie), and we get to see how it plays out—the creation and execution of a new strategy in an old established industry.

Strategy, Metrics, and Talent:

The main theme of the movie—and most obvious contribution to business—is Brand’s unique strategy. I don’t care at all about baseball or baseball strategy but I love the way this movie depicts the creation of strategy, and the impact of strategy on an organization.

Two big lessons here:

First, the movie inspires us to rethink strategy and metrics: What do we really want; how do we define and measure success? Beanne and Brand changed baseball by rethinking strategy and metrics—and having the courage to run the team according to the new strategy. You will see how much courage it took when you watch the movie.

Second, the movie shows us how strategy determines metrics, management practices, and talent management—and how these processes/practices are interlinked and interdependent. (See this map of how strategy and culture are linked and this introduction to talent management.)

Terrible Leadership:

There is an important example of terrible leadership toward the beginning of the movie. The error is so glaring and the scene so memorable that it is especially educational.

Beanne (Pitt) brings Brand (Hill) to a recruiting meeting. This is Brand’s very first meeting in his new job. Beanne doesn’t introduce Hill to the team or tell anyone what Brand’s role is. No one knows who he is, what he is doing there, or what he is trying to accomplish.

Two glaring leadership blunders here:

First, for a team to do really big things, they need solid communication, teamwork, cooperation, and collaboration, all of which require a high level of trust and respect. If you do a poor job of orienting and introducing new employees to your team, trust and respect will be low, and consequently, communication and teamwork will suffer. And as we all know from experience and research, poor communication and teamwork result in lower productivity, performance, and morale.

Second, Beanne doesn’t communicate the new strategy to his team. They have no idea what he is doing and why he is doing it. How can your employees help you if they don’t know what you are up to? Beanne and Brand are trying to do one thing, and the rest of the recruiting team is trying to do something completely different. They are working against each other. Half the team is trying to do things that are harmful to the strategy. Lack of alignment, as we know, results in confusion, wasted effort, inefficiency, under-performance, poor teamwork, and low morale.

Conclusion: Don’t make these mistakes.

Great Leadership:

There is a great example of positive leadership—strategic leadership—when Beanne finally turns the team around.

After the team is left with no choice but to follow the strategy (all other options are radically excised), Beanne finally communicates the strategy to his team and starts running the organization according to the new strategy. I don’t think there is anything entirely new in this, but the movie paints a good picture of how strategy translates into action.

Three points:

First, Beanne finally communicates the strategy to his team. They can understand now why they were recruited; why Beanne traded away the “best” players; and why Beanne recruited so many odd-ball, reject players. It is pretty tough to perform well when you have no idea what’s going on and how the pieces fit together.

Second, now that the players understand the plan and how their unique skills are relevant, they can understand the role they are intended to play in helping the team win games. In business language: Everyone finally gets a meaningful job description / performance plan that leverages their skills and contributes to the strategic plan—the big picture.

Third, Beanne and the management team start coaching the players to perform their roles; to use their skills in a way that contributes to the strategy and plan. It is interesting to see how Beanne gives players concrete feedback and stats (analytics) to help them better understand current and desired performance—how they can use their unique skills to help the team. These analytics are ingeniously aligned with the strategy; help players understand and leverage their unique strengths; and guide their play out on the diamond. This is made all the more exciting by the fact that these players are considered to be rejects and has-beens by the other teams and by conventional baseball wisdom.

Clear strategy and metrics help the players do what the team needs most and also guides them on how to work together—how to get the most out of their fellow players. Give your employees an important part to play in something bigger than themselves; help them be part of the solution and make a difference—make a contribution to the team.

Can’t wait to show this movie to my kids.




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