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One Great Lesson Every Leader Can Learn from the KC Royals

Last night the Kansas City Royals won their first World Series in thirty years. Ponder that reality for a moment. Many of the fans cheering them on weren’t even alive in 1985, the last time they won it all.

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This team is young and talented and in many ways, went against the grain of modern day professional baseball. In a day of free agents, television contracts and big cities, General Manager Dayton Moore defied the odds. Kansas City is not a large city and their television contract is nowhere near what other teams from larger markets get. Hence, the Royals don’t have the money to buy talent like other teams do.

But they’ve got something else up their sleeve.

I have watched the leadership of this baseball club over the last seven years, since first visiting them in Surprise, AZ at spring training in 2008. I’d like to offer some good news for leaders reading this who might be tempted to assume you can’t do anything extraordinary because you lack budget or notoriety or people or options. May I summarize what Dayton Moore and his front office leadership have practiced since they arrived in Kansas City years ago:

What we lack in cash, we will make up for in culture.

A culture of character, hard work and leadership prevails in this organization, from their eight minor league teams all the way through to the major league team we just saw dominate the Houston Astros, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets in post-season play. As Peter Drucker is quoted as saying: “culture eats strategy for lunch.” It’s not that the Royals had no strategy; on the contrary, they worked their strategy beautifully for years. In fact, it’s because they do not enjoy the luxury of a gigantic budget that they must work a strategy so well. They can’t simply buy an Alex Rodriquez or an Albert Pujols or a Josh Hamilton at the drop of a hat. Their strategy, however, revolved around cultivating a culture that would infect every player and coach in a marvelous way. Organization culture works like the ocean tide—when the tide goes up, all the boats go up. Everyone is affected and they become better people for having worked in such close proximity. Let me offer some observations I’ve made about the culture of the Royals, and for that matter, every great team, club or organization:

The Truth About Culture

  1. All teams have a culture, by default or design.
  2. People are carriers of culture, good or bad.
  3. Some teammates are more contagious than others.
  4. There are as many cultures as there are managers.
  5. The culture affects behavior more than anything else.
  6. A leader’s job is to nurture a healthy culture.
  7. They do this through their habits and attitudes.

At Growing Leaders, we’ve enjoyed the undeserved privilege of partnering with the Royals to play a small, small part of enhancing the culture that the owners and front office staff have built. I have watched Dayton Moore first-hand build a culture and team that he often said he would want his own son to play for. He treats his staff and athletes with dignity and prioritizes relationships. Consequently, he gets results.

So—the next time you’re tempted to say you can’t do something stellar in your school, athletic team or organization because you just don’t have the money or the talent, take a lesson from the Royals playbook. While money and followers and championships are nice to have, they can come as a by-product of a good culture, rather than the cause.

My hat is off to the 2015 Kansas City Royals, who made no excuses for not having a bigger city to play in or a bigger budget to play with. Congratulations. You taught us all a lesson in leadership.

3 Comments

  1. Cathie Leimbach on November 2, 2015 at 10:39 am

    Thank you, Tim, for sharing this very current example of how culture can GREATLY enhance the financial ROI. People want to be noticed and treated as valued human beings. When they engage as team members bought-in to organizational goals, setting aside personal agendas that run counter to the group’s priorities, they can accomplish many things, showing that money isn’t necessarily the most valuable resource for success.

  2. Rhonda Gierhan on November 2, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    Awesome article and insight! You are so correct on all accounts. The KC Royals showed the world what can happen when culture, caring and Character work hand in hand!

  3. Scott Freehafer on November 3, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    Tim – One thing about the Royals is that they did not have the curse of a huge budget and huge expectations. The three players you mentioned in your posting are (or were) great players, but they would have created an imbalance in the Royal’s organization if they had signed one of them and the pressure to perform might have been too great. So without the temptation or ability to sign the big name free agent, they developed a team of players who played well together and who were willing to do the little things needed to win.
    This all gives me hope!

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One Great Lesson Every Leader Can Learn from the KC Royals