From Curse to Champions: The Cubs’ 3 Steps to Turning a Team Around
The Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series and broke its 108-year losing streak, the longest of any major sports team. It was a remarkable season with a remarkable team, but even more remarkable was the fact it was the culmination of a plan orchestrated by Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations.
And to add to the story, he’s done it twice.
He did it in Boston after becoming the youngest General Manager in baseball history (28) in 2002 and leading the Red Sox to its first World Series in 86 years (and again three years later). Epstein then left Boston in 2011 and joined the Cubs despite his friends telling him it was “career suicide“.
How many of us would dive head first into an historically failing organization, let alone do it twice? Theo Epstein is that kind of leader, and knowing what he did and how he did it can help you take your team to a championship level.
Take a Long-term Approach
Epstein thinks long term. Soon after arriving in Chicago, Epstein was asked, “my dad is 87 years old and has been waiting his whole life to see the Cubs win the World Series – what should I tell him?” Epstein replied, “tell him to take his vitamins, because it’s going to be a few years.”
Turnarounds don’t happen quickly and they seldom happen if you just focus on short-term solutions. Start by building the right system to support long-term success. Epstein focused on how they drafted, developed players, coached, managed the back office and designed a culture of success that doesn’t just support this year, but many years to come.
Hire & Develop People Who Have Overcome Adversity
Epstein’s approach to player acquisition and development is unique because he focuses on personal characteristics and not just physical ability. His catch phrase: “scouting the person more than the player.”
And the most important personal characteristic? Overcoming adversity.
Whenever scouting a player Epstein asks for three examples of where the player has overcome adversity on the field and three examples of when he has done so off the field. That might be why Epstein is so keen on Anthony Rizzo, a star for the Cubs, who Epstein originally drafted in Boston. Rizzo beat cancer while playing through his treatment in the Red Sox’ minor leagues. No wonder one of Epstein’s first trades in Chicago was for Rizzo.
Develop the Right Culture, with Clear Outcomes
Soon after joining the Cubs, Epstein distributed a huge manual that described in detail “The Cubs’ Way”. It covered everything from how you plant your foot when turning a double to how outfielders must catch better than bleacher fans. To Epstein “The Cubs Way” is a “living, breathing thing” that embodies the Cubs’ brand. He put it this way:
“The Cubs Way” really boils down to the people. The players, obviously, but then all the scouts, all the people in the minor leagues, here in the big leagues. It’s more than words on a page. It comes down to how deep we dig to get connected to players, to teach the game the right way, how much we care, how committed we are, how we treat each other in the front office, the coaches, the players, how hard we work.”
Along with this he outlined three simple goals:
1. Be a good neighbor
2. Preserve historic Wrigley Field
3. Win the World Series
And, every individual in the organization has a set of goals tied to “The Cubs Way”.
The Cubs of the Future
Be prepared for more Cubs championships. Epstein is under a new, five-year contract. He has a young team that has bought into “The Cubs Way”. He has built a long-term system that is designed to replicate what they did this year, over and over again.
Can you say the same for your team?