Five Leadership Lessons from the Wildcard World Series

by Mark C. Thompson and Daria Wagganer

We’re only minutes away from Game 1 of the 2014 World Series, and the Hollywood screenwriters couldn’t have written it better… two teams – one perennial postseason powerhouse and one who hadn’t seen October action since the advent of the cell phone – have proven all of the oddsmakers wrong this year and have breathed new life into our nation’s pastime. The Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants, both “wildcard” teams who got into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth, fought off the toughest teams in baseball and delivered their clubs to the championship this year with unparalleled drama, excitement and true grit.

There are always great business lessons from the sports world, but these two hard-scrapping teams and their leaders – managers Bruce Bochy of the SF Giants and Ned Yost of the KC Royals – are providing us with perfect examples of “Most Admired” leadership along their path to this year’s World Series. Bochy, a seasoned postseason veteran who led the Giants to two of the last four championships, is a master of putting the right team with the right skills together at the right time of the season. Yost, an eleven year manager who had never had a team suit up in the playoffs, is the underdog whose lack of postseason experience made no difference to his “never say die” Royals who fought their way through four extra-inning games to win eight straight and make him the only unbeaten manager in postseason play.


On the surface, these managers and their teams couldn’t seem more different, but listening to their players in post-game interviews – you definitely hear common leadership themes that provide lasting lessons for leaders or team players in any organization.

5 Leadership Lessons from the Wildcard World Series –

  1. Put together the right team with the right skills at the right time.
  2. Never look past the upstart competitor who has nothing to lose.
  3. Trust and Respect your team and you’ll earn theirs.
  4. Great ideas and contributions can come from anywhere in the organization.
  5. Lay it all out on the field, have fun and be grateful!

Lesson #1: Put together the right team with the right skills at the right time. 

Sometimes the team that’s cruising through the season isn’t the one that ends up on top at the end. It’s the one that pulls together the right players to play the right roles and comes together with a “never say die” attitude and takes every play seriously in every game. Both Bochy and Yost have been masters of strategy en route to the series – utilizing specialty role players at critical points and never looking past the play in front of them at the moment. Which leads us to lesson #2…

Lesson #2: Never look past the upstart competitor who has nothing to lose.

The last time the Kansas City Royals had suited up for a post-season game was when they won the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985. So they definitely had nothing to lose. Squeaking in to this year’s postseason as a wildcard team – they laid it all out on the field every night and swept through 8 games including 4 that went into extra innings against three much more highly favored teams.

Not to be outdone in the drama department, the Giants pulled out their wins in equally exciting fashion with almost every win a “come from behind” triumph including one game against the Washington Nationals that went 18 innings and was the longest postseason game in history!

Both of these teams played each game leading up to the World Series as though they had nothing to lose. One of the biggest reasons that repeating a championship is so rare is that great sports teams, like great companies, often begin to “coast” after great success. Every team has to continue to play like they have nothing to lose – and continue to innovate and scrap for each win – or they may get blindsided by upstarts who are leaner, quicker and more agile.

There’s always room for improvement – even when you are on top. And if you are the upstart company looking to knock out the market leader – never cede a potential deal or customer to the entrenched company who has “always won that business” or “owns that space”. The companies and teams who think this way year after year continue to innovate and grow and end up standing tall at the end of the season.

Lesson #3: Trust and Respect your team – and you’ll earn theirs.

How do great leaders bring talented individuals together with such passion and unity? How could Yost, whose team hadn’t picked up a bat in the postseason for 29 long years, pull this team together to believe that they’d be the ones to break that long drought?


Ned Yost is the kind of leader whose decisions have not always been trusted by the commentators, sports writers or the fans. After 11 seasons as a manager of a low budget team in a relatively small market, the last eight games that the Royals have played are Yost’s first postseason games ever as a manager. But the Royals didn’t need a manager who had “been there, done that” this year. They needed a leader who believed in each of his players – and could elicit the kind of reciprocal trust from the team that he’d lead them in the right direction. “Ned’s probably not getting his due for his ability to communicate with his players,” a former Royals manager noted. “You never see that. It’s an unsaid thing. It’s clearly one of Ned’s greatest abilities — getting his players to buy into his philosophy.”

“I’m glad I’m playing for a guy like him, for sure,” said Travis Ishikawa of Giants manager Bruce Bochy, “He just seems to have the right intuition with every move he makes.” Michael Morse seconded this sentiment, “To be a part of his (Bochy’s) program and his team is such an honor. That’s why coming here was a big thing for me.  Everybody comes here happy to be here, nobody ever has a bad attitude. Everybody has one goal, and that’s to win together. To me, it’s the perfect balance of having fun and having success.”

Yost and Bochy both lead by example – creating a culture of trust and respect that infuses all of their players. In the celebrations and postgame interviews after both the Royals and the Giants advanced to the World Series, all the players expressed how each person on their teams felt valued for their unique contribution to the team and was treated like family by the coaching staff and the other players. This mutual respect and admiration allowed each team to come through some really low times in the middle of their 2014 season and ultimately earn a championship berth.

Giants League Win 2014 Lesson #4: Great Contributions can come from anywhere within your organization.

No game exemplifies this better than the SF Giants “come from behind” win in Game 5 against the favored St. Louis Cardinals. San Francisco’s heavy hitters hadn’t had a home run in over 220 trips to the plate during the playoff games leading up to their last game against the Cardinals, but Bochy was able to get his team to shake off their slumps and adjust to a strategy of just getting on base and making things happen play by play. He trusted his specialty role players – his designated hitters, pinch runners and relief pitchers – to use their specialized skills to do what they do best.

Three “role players” stepped up to pull the Giants out of the home run slump in this last game and helped launch them into the World Series. The first one to send one out of the park was the Giants’ 23 year-old rookie 2nd baseman (and ironically named) Joe Panik. Giants’ hitting coach Hensley Meulens commented, “Nothing Panik does surprises me. He plays way beyond his age – his overall demeanor and the way he plays the game – he’s calm, cool and collected. Nothing ever seems to rush him at all, at any point during the game. Maybe it does, but he never shows it.” Next, Michael Morse – a 10 year veteran – stepped in as a pinch hitter and sent a solo shot into the stands and rounded the bases smiling ear to ear with the joy of a little leaguer hitting his first home run.

The final star of the night was Travis Ishikawa – a veteran player who almost gave up the game after being cut from the Giants, bounced down to the minor leagues, and traded to other teams over the past few years. Ishikawa was called up by Bochy just weeks before the start of the postseason to fill in for injured Giants players. He was placed in an unfamiliar position in the outfield – and was nearly the goat of the game when he dropped a line drive that allowed St. Louis to take an early lead in the game. But, he never gave up and played every at-bat as though it would be his last. And in what can only be described as a perfect Hollywood style ending – he stepped to the plate on the final out of the 9th inning and sent a three-run shot that almost made it into McCovey Cove in San Francisco Bay. After that walk-off home run, Bruce Bochy walked calmly out of the dugout to join the exuberant group hug going on at home plate – as though the script had been written this way and he expected it all along.

This trifecta of unlikely heroes proved that the winning contribution doesn’t always have to come from your superstars – and a great leader who values to the contributions from all of his/her players will get the best effort from each person and the highest level of performance from the whole team.

Lesson #5: Lay it all out on the field, have fun and be grateful!

To be a part of a winning team and a successful organization, one of the most important factors is to play with passion! Both the Royals and Giants took many games to extra innings to get the job done during their postseason march to the championship. Players on both teams laid it all out on the field every single game, and truly in almost every at bat.

“We know what’s at stake, and getting to this point now, we’re excited,” Manager Bruce Bochy said. “You go out there and you play like there’s no tomorrow, and these guys have done a great job of it. They’re keeping their poise and finding ways to get it done.”

Yost said the same about his Royals, “This is a gutty group. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I will say that they will leave it all out on the field for you.”

Royals 2014

Giants’ superstar slugger Pablo Sandoval – choked back tears in his postgame interview when asked why this team – of all of the great teams he’s been a part of – was so special. “The chemistry we have – all these guys are special – the whole team plays hard for each other.” It’s exciting,” he said. “You win or you go home. That’s what we try to do every single day – not get too excited in situations. You want to… have fun no matter what the situation is, what the score is… Just have fun out there.”

Michael Morse, Giants designated hitter said, “I’m just happy to be here! Any role, anything, I’m just a guy who will do whatever it takes. In Spring training, we said that we were a World Series Bound team – and to be around 25 guys who have one vision is incredible.”

The players on these two teams and their leaders exemplify the lessons of organizations that are Most Admired and achieve long-term success – grit, trust, respect, passion and gratitude. So, here’s to the boys of October! This World Series promises to be one for the ages! column: Steve Jobs’ 3 Most Surprising Secrets to Success

The Apple founder’s advice highlights the biggest paradox you’ll face in manifesting your dreams.


In the final minutes before Apple’s press conference, my thoughts drifted to what Steve Jobs would have thought about his legacy. I envied him in high school as one of the few guys for whom the creative die seemed to be cast as a teenager. His swagger throughout life and his approach to leadership never seemed to change–until the years just before his death.

Steve never lost that sparkle in his eye or that ever-present flow of ideas, even in his last moments. But in the final weeks before his passing, he shared three things that shocked me–not so much because he admitted them, but because the first one was something he’d embraced only fairly recently, while the other two were lifelong values.

1. “Ditch your ego completely at least once each day.”
Dump judging others as well as the self-criticism. Be open to hear what you need to change on the long, winding road to building your dream. This is something that Jobs acknowledged was a real challenge for him. (Perhaps it would be for any of us!) It’s a bit of a paradox of ambition plus humility. You need a lot of hubris to believe your ideas can be the best in the world, but you also risk losing your edge and falling behind unless you’re an obsessive listener. You have to soak up the brilliance of the people and customers you’ve worked so hard to recruit.

2. “Be unapologetically ambitious about your passion.”
This was Steve’s (and is most leaders’) blessing and curse. Your obsession to live your passion against all odds is one of the greatest of all assets, but arrogance is also your biggest weakness. Steve lamented that he led Apple to an unnecessarily high rate of lost talent, as well as ideas that he’d attracted but ignored–particularly back when his career and Apple hit the skids in the ’90s.

3. “Be grateful to others for what they contribute, but don’t do it for validation.”
Remember, there are plenty of loving critics and critical lovers who will unintentionally (and intentionally!) sabotage your ambitions because they care for you or they’d like to see you fail. If your venture is meant to impress someone, you’re setting yourself up for endless confusion.

The advice of a dying man, particularly this guru, is hard to ignore: “Don’t give yourself to anything unless you’re clear that it really matters.” Column: 4 Secrets to Success Richard Branson Learned From Nelson Mandela

Instead of getting angry when dealing with the headaches of launching a new business, Sir Richard draws on lessons Mandela taught him for overcoming a struggle.

Richard Branson

As Virgin America announced plans for its long-awaited IPO, Sir Richard Branson confided over a late-night beer just how maddening it can be to launch any high-flying business, even with more than 350 other companies under the Virgin brand. Back when the Bay Area-based airline was getting started, Virgin America’s competitors viciously contested the newcomer’s arrival for what seemed like an eternity. Price wars, lawsuits, and regulatory battles all soaked up precious resources.

“The knee-jerk reaction you feel when you’re under attack is to assume a siege mentality,” Branson said. But your fight-or-flight instincts are “a self-indulgent waste of time and money.” Instead, the legendary entrepreneur and his partners focused on reinventing the customer experience for domestic air travel, eventually winning share in the insanely competitive airline industry.

Branson said that rather than ever feel threatened or even sorry for himself, he’s always comforted by four principles that guided his longtime mentor, Nelson Mandela, whose circumstances were obviously far more desperate than any of us will ever experience.

[read the full article]

Labor Day Message: Love Family & Friends NOW

Your eulogy won’t be about the office!

Labor Day is a perfect time to suggest that our lives aren’t supposed to be all  about work. In the tough global economic environment, everyone is working  harder out of necessity and most of us find it difficult to take a break from work, even on a mandated holiday! Sometimes I feel guilty abandoning work to live out  the shared dreams of my family. But it’s so much better to feel guilty about the office than to miss my daughter while she’s still with us at home. That’s becoming  evident to me now more than ever since she started high school this fall. Her childhood and our time with her is just flying by.

I have been especially struck by some recent eulogies heard at funerals that I’ve attended this past year. The grieving loved ones never mentioned the extra time  those departed souls spent in the office. No… instead they were remembered  and admired for the love they shared with family, friends, and community and even for the customers whose lives they had touched.

When I reached out to friends that I hadn’t seen in months to invite them to  Bonita’s birthday this summer, it was eye-opening and heart wrenching to hear from so many friends whose lives had been impacted by sudden changes of fate during the past year. The co-author of one my books has been enduring very challenging health problems and yet is still inspiring everyone with his undaunted enthusiasm for life and work. Several other friends and family are battling cancer of every kind, including my wife’s beloved father. It felt good to talk to so many  people whom I’ve missed during this busy year, but it was also a warning.

Whatever the dream you have for your life or your family, do it now. Carpe Diem.

On a trip to Africa in the 1990s, my wife Bonita and I were working with an  organization called Save the Children. We were in the midst of the busiest time in our professional careers, but on that trip we made the life-changing decision to become parents (before it was too late). We had been together 20 years already and we were in our early 40s when we were finally blessed by the arrival  of our sweet little girl. We had been constantly traveling the world for years, and couldn’t wait for Vanessa to be old enough to join us on our adventures—especially to see Africa, the cradle of life. We dreamed of exploring the world  together and showing our daughter many cultures and natural wonders.

In this brief video, my daughter and I share a moment of our dream. (Thank you, Sir Richard for the invite to Ulusaba in South Africa!) Over the past 7 years, Vanessa has visited more than 40 countries with us and I’m not regretting a moment of any professional sacrifice we might have made to have the extraordinary life that we share. As Jack London said, “I’d rather be ashes than  dust.”

Free New App on the iTunes App Store

from Mark Thompson and Brian Tracy
Now Build a Great Business!

No matter what industry you’re in or what economic conditions you are facing, you can still build a phenomenally successful business. Executive Coach MarkThompson and International Success Expert Brian Tracy reveal seven powerful principles that will change your business for the better in a brand new FREE app based on their bestselling book Now Build a Great Business.

Now Build a Great Business App sample screens.

This app contains seven chapters that teach people how to:

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App features:

  • Seven inspiring, thought-provoking chapters about building a successful business.
  • 50+ action exercises to help users apply the seven principles to their own businesses.
  • Personal journal to record thoughts and experience.
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  • Narration by Mark Thompson and Brian Tracy for all seven chapters.This free app allows access to a portion of the content. Additional chapters and narration can be unlocked via in-app purchases.

Visit the iTunes App Store to download this app for FREE! Column: How Top Leaders Handle Setbacks and Criticism

Executive Coach Mark Thompson shares lessons from America’s most successful executives on how to gracefully survive a professional drubbing.

Mark Thompson in Inc.When it became clear this spring that Alan Mulally, Ford’s CEO, wasn’t going to be selected for the top spot at Microsoft, the software company’s stock took a hit. You might think Mulally’s ego would take one too. As it happens, he took it in stride. (Ford showed their love by awarding him another $14 million in stock for the company’s prior year’s performance. And now that he’s announced his retirement this summer, there’s an epic line of companies hungry to recruit him.)Mulally wasn’t always in so much demand or as sanguine in the face of rejection. When Mulally was Boeing’s president, it was widely expected that he would be made CEO after a decade of successes at the company. He led the development of the 777 and shepherded the aircraft maker through a vibrant recovery from the financial wounds inflicted by 9/11 (the terrorists used Boeing 757s and 767s in the attack).

Mulally admits that when Boeing passed him over for the job, he was briefly devastated. But he quickly recovered because, he says, “a bad attitude simply erases everyone else’s memory of the incredible progress achieved.” He did not want to tarnish all “the great progress we had made” by becoming that bitter guy. He chose, instead, to remain a proud and gifted leader – albeit one who had suffered a professional setback. He was promptly recruited by Ford to re-ignite another iconic American manufacturer.

Legendary leaders like Mulally have three coping mechanisms that help them get through times when criticism, failure or disappointment threaten to rob the mojo that made them successful in the first place.  (more…)

Read the rest of Mark’s column on

MY AFTER WITH MAYA: The Seven Sacred Promises

“This life, this experience is our one time to be ourselves.
It’s amazing. It’s such an incredible gift.”
– Maya Angelou

Several years ago, Maya Angelou reluctantly invited me to her home for a public broadcasting interview. I say “reluctantly” because at the time, I was the executive producer of and the Schwab CEO series, so Dr. Angelou’s office wondered aloud why a business geek like me wanted to get a front-row seat with Maya to discuss her life and existential poetry. I had been broadcasting interviews with billionaires like Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, and it was time to break out of my comfort zone to interview this remarkable literary pioneer and leader.

On the day I arrived in Wake Forest, NC – Maya had cancelled all her meetings because she wasn’t feeling well. Since I had already made the trip, I told her office that I’d be happy to sit outside her home on that blustery fall day and wait – and if she were feeling well enough anytime that day, that I’d be there and she could allow me the interview if she wanted to. Finally, her assistant took pity and let me wait in her living room, where I could smell freshly-baked cookies, coffee and comfort food. She had a 12-foot picture window looking out to the fall trees, where brilliant yellow, orange and red leaves swirled as though in an aquarium.

An hour later, I looked up to see Maya – a majestic six-foot Amazon – enter the room. She shook my hand and settled into her favorite chair to chat. We talked about kids and love and life, and the 20-minute interview slot turned into four hours of laughter, deeply moving conversation, and lessons that I’d never forget. I think we healed each other that day.

The resulting program was called “Seven Sacred Promises”, and if you’d like to listen to the interview or read a copy of the transcript – you can find one of the chapters at

Here’s an excerpt from our conversation: “This experience, this life, is our one time to be ourselves. It’s amazing. It’s such an incredible gift. The present is a present; it is a gift. To not try to live fully is to say to the creator, ‘I really don’t appreciate this incredible cornucopia. I’m not going to enjoy color, music, or order, or disorder. I just refuse.’ It’s amazing that the creator doesn’t just bump you into being a non-entity.”

“By the time my son was 7, I taught him that there was a place inside himself, so sacred, that no one had the right to walk in there. Nobody. No mother, father, no wife, husband, no child. Because that maybe the place that you go to meet God when you die. That place must be pristine. And it is your responsibility to keep it pristine. So if you don’t, if you allow any brut to come in trashing that place, what happens to you? Where do you go for solace inside yourself? Can’t do that. There is something so sacred in each of us.”

Maya told me that there were customers who would come into her Grandmother’s store and complain about everything. “When that person would leave, she would call me. ‘There are people all over the world, white and black, rich and poor, going to sleep when that person went to sleep. They will never wake again. Their beds have become their cooling boards, their blankets have become their winding sheets and they would give ANYTHING for just 5 minutes of what that person was complaining about.’”

What I wouldn’t give for 5 more minutes with the late, great Maya Angelou. I’m so thankful for the gift of the time I shared with her – and her spirit will live on in her words for the ages. Rest in Peace Maya.

Listen to the rest of Mark’s interview with Maya Angelou:

BECOMING A VALUED PLAYER: Free AMA Webinar with Mark Thompson, Bonita Thompson and Q&A with Sir Richard Branson


Executive Coach, Keynote Speaker and NY Times bestselling leadership guru Mark Thompson and NYT Bestselling Author Bonita Thompson delivered this free American Management Association Webinar, that included a Q&A with Sir Richard Branson.
Originally recorded on April 16, 2014.

Follow Mark on Twitter @SuccessMatters



Spring is a time of renewal and rebirth – and the perfect time to renew your commitment to achieving long term goals or even to reinvent your business. No matter what your circumstances, you can always commit to taking positive steps in a new direction. Mandela taught it best in 5 lessons he shared with me in a conversation at the World Economic Forum about the strategies and attitude that it takes to achieve “impossible” goals…

“I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.”

1. You don’t have to be perfect to make a difference.

In the years before Mandela, an activist lawyer, had been sent to a death camp, he was zealously over-confident about his mission to end apartheid. Although Mandela initially advocated a peaceful solution, he eventually took up arms when the path of peace appeared to be a dead end. In 1964, he was convicted of conspiracy and sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment. They sent him to a lifetime of hard labor to break his spirit.

After 27 years in captivity, Mandela had every reason to have become the worst man on his continent, but instead he accelerated the peaceful reinvention of his nation. The fact that he didn’t start out as a saint, with neither perfect grace, nor humility, before his long walk to freedom, makes his journey even more useful and inspiring to the rest of us. That’s the Mandela Effect.

As Richard put it, “When you can create enduring impact not because you are perfect or lucky, but because you have the courage to build a different future rather than dwell in the past”. The secret to lasting success – of whatever kind – is to create a life that matters for yourself and those you serve.

2. Being persistent does not mean being inflexible.

“Do not judge me by my successes”, Mandela admonished. “Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” It was always about finding a new route down a winding road, he said.

It’s horrifying to imagine the decades he suffered in a cramped cell every night. From dawn to dusk, he dragged stones in the blinding heat. You can’t steel yourself for year after year dreaming that hopeless circumstances will change, he said. You have to change the way you deal with the circumstances. Being flexible in finding a new door every time the last one slams shut is the difference between those who find their way and those who remain lost, he said…

Read the rest of Mandela’s 5 lessons on Mark’s blog post on’s-five-strategies-from-davos



If you could ask Sir Richard Branson any question…what would you ask? Here’s your chance to ask Sir Richard Branson your best question about life and work.

If your question is selected, you’ll get a free book from Richard and Keynote Speaker & New York Times bestselling leadership guru Mark Thompson—who’s hosting the free American Management Association Webinar on April 16 @ Noon EST.

Send your questions to Mark on Twitter @SuccessMatters by April 3 to win your free book!

Sign up for the Free Webinar on the AMA website:

Sir Richard Branson and Mark C. Thompson


What You Will Learn
Practical Tips and Tactics for Becoming an MVP at Work and in Your Personal Life

With the growing trend of distraction and dysfunction in the workplace, more people are seeking to be the valued team member they feel they should be. Consultants and authors Mark Thompson and Bonita Buell-Thompson, along with researcher Clifford Nass, have assembled new, clear strategies for anyone wanting to become a truly valued contributor both at work and in their personal lives. This webcast will present recent study data and lay out the tactical, practical steps required for this type of change.

Sir Richard Branson will be a special guest on this program, answering questions program registrants have submitted in advance. Topics to be covered include:

  • The Myth of Multitasking
  • The Power of Reciprocity
  • Removing the Distractions

Sign up for the Free Webinar on the AMA website: