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Carlos Zambrano: management challenge June 27, 2010

Posted by vsap in Blogroll, Major League Baseball, Uncategorized.
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“That’s just the way he is,” Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen told the Chicago Tribune after joining Carlos Zambrano for dinner after the Chicago Cubs’ pitcher’s latest outburst on Friday night.

While Mr. Guillen may be in his own class of management headache for his employer, I want to focus on Mr. Zambrano, or, more precisely, the various and sundry “Zambrano-types” we encounter everyday in the real world of work.

Full disclosure: I am a life-long St. Louis Cardinals fan. I do take a perverse joy in seeing the Cubs self-destruct nearly every year. But, this isn’t about me or my fan loyalty. It is about business management and “Zambranos” everyday peers or colleagues submit themselves to as they toil in the anonymity of thousands of workplaces in the USA.

Lou Piniella, The Chicago Cubs manager told the Chicago Tribune:

“I think [his behavior] was a combination of frustration,” Piniella said, “but again, it serves no purpose. These guys have to play behind you.

“I looked at the film after the ballgame,” Piniella said. “There wasn’t a play that wasn’t made that could’ve been made. Get out of that inning with one run — but four. You don’t want that on a team.”

Frustration and anger are “seasons” a typical employee at a typical company endures from time to time. The vast majority go unnoticed since the typical employee is not in the public eye. And, most often, like the seasons of weather, the seasons of frustration and anger, change, subside, or otherwise begin to fade in the rear view mirror of work. We must soldier on regardless of managers or colleagues acting poorly.

Piniella concluded his talk with the Tribune this way:

“I hadn’t seen my daughter since I left for Spring Training,” Piniella said. “That was mid-February. She got in Friday night from Tampa [Fla.] and I got home to my apartment and my wife and daughter wanted me to go eat dinner with them. I was sick from what happened and I was very tired and embarrassed. They both went out and ate by themselves. I stayed home. That’s all I have to say about that situation.”

I believe we ALL know the feeling, whether we have been in management for years or have simply had workplace experience to verify the feeling Mr. Piniella shared.

ESPN reported this angle of the incident:

“It was unclear what upset Zambrano, but his frustration was directed at [Derrek] Lee. The two were face to face before manager Lou Piniella and others intervened. Zambrano also walked up and down the dugout shouting and knocked over a Gatorade cooler before Piniella told him to go home.

“His conduct wasn’t acceptable,” Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. “His actions toward his teammates and staff were not acceptable.

“He will not be at the ballpark tomorrow. We’ll play with 24. We’ll play with 24 before we tolerate that kind of behavior.”

Mr. Hendry, in this case, is the boss’s boss. And, whether it was due to his personal outrage at the situation or due to the need to comment to the public about this “very public” incident strictly from a professional point-of-view, it was essential that he made the team’s displeasure clear. Mr. Zambrano is suspended in definitely.

The other part of the story is blaming a co-worker, which is nothing new in any workplace. Mr. Zambrano chose an odd target: Derrek Lee. From the casual Cubs taunter (like me) to the most avid baseball fan, Mr. Lee exemplifies class. He is like your lead sales rep, he knows how important he is to the organization and humbly goes about his work. He receives respect and admiration not only for his performance on the job, but how he conducts himself in the workplace and out. This offers a stark contrast to Mr. Zambrano, as his record shows.

As reported by Fox Sports:

“Last season he (Zambrano) was barred for six games by Major League Baseball after an outburst during a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. And in 2007, he got into a fight with former teammate Michael Barrett in the dugout that resumed in the clubhouse, resulting in fines for both players.”

So, does character matter in the workplace, or just performance? Would your company act swiftly to stop the kind of abuse Mr. Zambrano feels compelled to liberally purvey to his colleagues? In short, would your boss let you get away with this kind of behavior?

Of course the answer is yes and no.

A page from my past is an object lesson. I worked for an owner of a medium size publishing firm. I was a Publisher in the newspaper division and he had a commercial printing division as well. Mr. Smith (not his real name) was the top sales rep for the commercial printing division. I would go to the owner’s office my annual review. During my first review. We were interrupted no fewer than three times by “urgent matters” Mr. Smith needed to bring to the owner’s attention. Of course, the first two times the owner apologized and excused himself to see what was so pressing. After the third time, the owner, now flush, looking like his blood pressure was going off the charts, looked me square in the eyes for a moment that seemed like ten minutes, and said flatly, “I hate that son of a bitch.” Then he drew a deep breath, leaned back in his chair and let out an airy sigh and said, “But he makes me SO much money!”

At that moment I understood that performance was more important than character. (this is the “yes” portion)

While it made me a little uncomfortable for a while, within twelve months Mr. Smith was gone from the company. I found this out during one of my weekly conversations with the owner’s secretary. I asked her what happened. She came right to the point: “Mr. Smith felt that since no one could out-sell him he was irreplaceable. I admit, he did bring in the sales. But the way he treated me,the staff, and ultimately, the owner, sealed his fate. Being the best salesman in the world means nothing if you can’t get along with the people who have to do the work you sold!” The owner had finally had his fill, and the price-value scale tipped to the point where the “price” of keeping Mr. Smith around was too high relative to the “value” to the company (and the owner’s sanity).

I considered this the “no” moment and redemption: It wasn’t just performance that mattered. The other things matter, too. Mr. Smith bet on performance and that gamble paid off for about six years. But, like most failed gamblers, he didn’t know when to fold that hand to live to play the next.

I believe Mr. Zambrano is beginning to discover that he, too, is now on the wrong end of the price-value equation for the Chicago Cubs.

What do you do with a manager or colleague who seems to “go off” on you with regularity? How do you manage a situation where you are blamed for a high-profile failure you had nothing to do with?

I know you have to set aside the fact that Mr. Zambrano has a contract with the Chicago Cubs AND representation from a union, not to mention his own lawyers. Most of us have none of those things working for us as at-will employees. So what do you do with abusive co-workers? How do you survive and thrive in a hostile environment (or a hostile relationship) at work?

I’d like to hear your horror story and how you resolved it.

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