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Everyone Wants To Be A General Manager

This is an excerpt from Michael Abramson’s chapter in “The GM’s Handbook” which is available in paperback, Amazon Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. It is cited, indexed and professionally edited, providing perspectives from 16 MiLB C-Suite Executives on leadership, hiring/firing/interviews, merchandise, tickets, concessions, corporate sales and the business of sports revenue generation.

Perspective changes how you view the position you want, especially once you’ve obtained it and have seen the strings to the job that no one else does. So does the idea that you will somehow know when you have “arrived” after a successful journey. Because if you stop learning, if you stop moving for even a moment, someone else will be there, ready to step into your position. This is the life of a minor league general manager. The greatest difference between when I started as an account executive and now, as a general manager, is that I now realize there is always more work to be done. When I was young, I felt there was a finality to what I had to do. Now, I realize, it never stops.

My position as a minor league general manager is a daily challenge and rewarding, and I make every attempt to provide those employees that I supervise with the ability to be heard regardless of organization status. As a young account executive, I assumed every idea that I generated was perfect and that my input was immensely valuable to the success of the organization. But as I grew in my career toward the general manager role, I realized that listening more than talking, helped my acumen. Looking back, I understand that many of the managers who supervised me in the past were making the same effort that I make in the same role now, simply assuring that I was heard, and felt appreciated.

I started in baseball under three men who defined my career. Looking back on the past 11 years, I earned mentors, role models and friends from those who supervised me. Simply by listening more to what they had to say. Lou Schwechheimer, then-Pawtucket Red Sox owner, president and general manager, was an idea man, both charismatic and unshakable in his entertainment vision. Mike Tamburro was patriarchal in his delivery and shaped my career at the end of the line. And Ben Mondor, was tough, but fair, and unfailingly generous. Each of these men gave me life lessons and teachable moments. Mondor passed years ago, but his mentorship guides my decisions to this day.

I still recall the many pieces of advice the three men bestowed on me. Schwechheimer gave me one of the greatest pieces of advice that has shaped my career; in business, it is important to remain even-keeled. At your most excited, stay at a high of 60. At your lowest, put it at a low of 40. Throughout my career since that conversation, I’ve enjoyed great successes, and endured some large disappointments. But I’ve tried to remain at a high of 60, or a low of 40, whether it’s achieved through promoting employees into peers, or dealing with the displeasure of letting other employees go.

Thinking back, I’m pretty fortunate not to have dealt with an egregious error or human resources issue, or with a lack of employee performance when letting someone go. Sometimes, employees simply do not work out at the position. They know it as much as you do. Understanding minor league baseball operations is more a product of showcasing that some people will not be able to perform at the high level that the organization needs. And in their heart, these employees tend to know it as well. They didn’t have what it took to achieve that high level of success, and tended to opt-out on their own. And sometimes, as a manager for a minor league baseball front office, you are expected to help the employees who are not achieving the high level of success by making the decision to leave for them.

GMsHandbook
This is an excerpt from Michael Abramson’s chapter in “The GM’s Handbook” which is available in paperback, Amazon Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. It is cited, indexed and professionally edited, providing perspectives from 16 MiLB C-Suite Executives on leadership, hiring/firing/interviews, merchandise, tickets, concessions, corporate sales and the business of sports revenue generation.

Everyone wants to be a general manager. No one wants to be a supervisor. Because the first comes with a nice title that everyone feels is important. The second is a tough job that everyone knows comes with accountability. To be a general manager, you have to know how to truly supervise people, earn their trust and value their opinion. Barking orders gets no one to follow you. And if they do not follow you, there is no point in you being in a leadership role. Everything depends on you understanding that it begins with the people that you are managing.

You have to know who they are, what they want, and who they want to be. That means investing in them, engaging with their personalities, and pushing them to a higher level of success. It does not mean sitting in a nice big office, ordering people around, with zero accountability to yourself. The majority of the staff will show you how they want to be managed. And as a minor league baseball general manager, you have to show that you can identify sales talent, cultivate it further, and figure out how to teach them effectively. And it means accepting that your staff will make mistakes, especially teachable moments that will broaden their sales skills later on. The minor league baseball front office is as much a working lab for the future general managers of tomorrow as it is an organizational sales floor.

The front office staff should be treated as if they are your peers. Including the interns. Leaving people behind, or creating levels of respect does not help situations. It breaks down camaraderie. It is divisive. Opinions must be valued, even from the newest employee, regardless of their paycheck. And minor league baseball general managers should be seeking to incorporate ideas that are presented. The craziest idea that half of the old guard in the room feel is absolutely stupid may generate the most interest from the public.

This is where a minor league general manager either excels or fails at their job. When a person is put into a position that can be considered higher-level, it is easy for them to setup a dynamic where everyone thinks that the boss has great ideas. But that type of environment serves no one. It is systematic fraud. It is better to treat yourself as an equal to everyone else in the room, and foster the belief that everyone has an equal stake in a successful outcome. Being genuine as a general manager or supervisor is how you earn respect, and how you generate the best ideas as a group.

Management is about instituting guidelines that work for you, as well as the employees that you supervise. That means monitoring their successes, while allowing them some independence toward learning from situations that they encounter. Too much freedom can actually lead to distraction, but it is also necessary when creating building blocks of experience for a future leader’s foundational structure. There exists a line of demarcation with every staff member that, as a manager, you will have to engage with. Are they employed because “they love the game” or are they employed simply to collect a paycheck. There might be other answers, but those two reasons are specific to why someone chooses to work in the sports industry.

Unfortunately, there are situations where the staff member is working in a minor league front office for a goal that cannot be achieved. This is where you are expected to become the cheerleader to the cheerful, and occasionally, the cheerless. Expect your staff’s culture to consume the majority of your day in different scenarios. There are never enough hours for what is truly required of a general manager when it comes to staff culture, nor is there ever enough supervisorial support when issues crop up. The key is to settle for “good” over “great” as long as it exists in a sustainable manner.

Job candidates are never simply being interviewed by our organization. They are interviewing us as well. This is important to share with those who apply and gain an interview with your organization. Specifically because it means finding a great fit on both sides. A job placement should never be advantageous for the employer and not the employee. When that happens, employees leave quickly and the organizational culture suffers long term.

Every manager should speak about culture in their initial interviews with prospective employees. They should talk about it a lot. I do. There is a special breed of person that can endure the machinations of working a baseball season. That’s 16-hour days with 30 people in the office. A lot of varying personalities and potential conflicts with how different people engage with each other. This is important to address, so that prospective employees who are working in baseball understand it is a unique place, in a unique industry. This extends to how you speak to those who get hired. One of my employees is a mother with teenagers at home. I sold her on the benefits of having her children attend games at the ballpark, and gaining a sense of ownership that their friends would not have. It all comes down to the culture and attitude that you project and maintain.

This is an excerpt from Michael Abramson’s chapter in “The GM’s Handbook” which is available in paperback, Amazon Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. It is cited, indexed and professionally edited, providing perspectives from 16 MiLB C-Suite Executives on leadership, hiring/firing/interviews, merchandise, tickets, concessions, corporate sales and the business of sports revenue generation.

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