It sounds like a cliché, but the best career advice I’ve ever received was to “follow your passion” and “be the best at whatever it is you decide to do.” When I look at leaders across the world who are the most successful, I believe they all have a passion for what they do, are not afraid to fail and have an internal drive to always get (and do) better. The best of the best leaders “fly under the radar” – deflecting praise onto those who work for and around them. They are “servant leaders” who put others before them in every communication and decision they make.
I want to introduce you to one of the best examples of such a leader…
…Meet Brian Snitker, current Atlanta Braves manager. Snitker was first named interim manager – his first as manager at the major league level — at the age of 60 (he is now 62). Before “getting the call” to be the top coach for the Braves, Snitker spent 15 seasons as a minor league coach across all levels of the Braves organization and 25 seasons in other capacities (minor league player, bullpen coach, third base coach).
When he was first named manager, hardly anyone – including myself – felt that Snitker would manage the Braves for more than 2 years given a) his age, b) the fact that they were in the middle of a rebuild of the franchise and c) his “fly under the radar” mentality. It is exactly these three characteristics that have made Snitker the perfect person for the job. At the time of this blog, Snitker has the Braves in first place in the National League East, a place that NO ONE thought would be the case more than 30 games into the season (they are 19-14). Most people attribute Snitker’s success to the “youth movement” contributing at a more rapid rate to the team’s winning ways than most envisioned. However, I feel it’s largely due to Snitker’s leadership approach. Let me share perceived keys to his success.
Align yourself with (and buy into) senior leadership’s vision. Brian Snitker knew what he was “signing up for” when he took the job – a) smaller (shrinking) payroll, b) constant flux (turnover) of players and c) uncertainty about his job security. The expectation was to maintain order and give the younger players experience; winning was a secondary goal (just be competitive). Instead of “going through the motions” Snitker embraced the challenge and saw it as the perfect job. He aligned himself with the philosophies of both general managers, John Coppollela (who was subsequently fired) and Alex Anthopoulos. When Anthopoulos accepted the GM role among turmoil, Snitker maintained his focus on the task at hand and quickly adopted his new boss’ love for using analytics to improve percentages. This was something foreign to Snitker.
“I’m 62 years old, and I spent my entire career relying on my gut and my eyes and getting to know the people that Alex has brought in, it’s been enlightening to me.”
“It’s all new to me. That’s what I told [Anthopoulos]. I said, ‘You’ve got a bunch of dogs you’re teaching new tricks to.’ I’m learning it all. It’s interesting. It’s been cool.”
Create an environment where employees can bond and be themselves. Snitker’s supportive coaching nature is such that he removes the perception of veteran players being more important than younger, unproven (newer) players. He expects his veterans to lead by example.
“The veterans in this clubhouse have made it real easy to fit in.”
-Mike Soroka, rookie (20-year old) pitcher
In short, it’s about communication and respect with Snitker. He and his boss, Alex Anthopoulos, make a point of letting each player know where he stands on the team and what’s expected so there are no surprises. In addition, he praises in public and criticizes in private.
Do not worry about your critics and stay focused on your job. Snitker knew that he was taking on a rebuilding job and was ok with it. When speaking about uncertainty, he said, “Teams I’ve had over the years, it’s just like (I told them), the only thing you can control is today. You can’t control yesterday, and tomorrow’s, like, light years away. So we just come to work today and prepare and do the best we can to win the game today.”
When the Braves leadership team was interviewing other candidates for the manager position after Snitker’s interim season had ended, journalists were asking him if he wanted the job because most felt he wouldn’t get it. Through it all, Snitker kept a positive, upbeat frame of mind.
Snitker was asked about whether it was helpful to have two former managers on his staff (Ron Washington and Walt Weiss). Some felt might be in place as assistants to take his job if the team faltered. Snitker’s response was, without hesitation, “Absolutely…Having guys that have been through it at the major league level is going to be nothing but make me better.”
Show your commitment to your team and the organization. Lifelong commitment to one organization in any industry is a thing of the past. There are very few institutions who have employees celebrating 40-year anniversaries with the same organization. When asked if he would leave the Braves organization if not offered the permanent position as manager (which he was), Snitker responded, “I mean, this has been my life. This organization, I’ve been here the majority of my life. I’ve been with the Atlanta Braves. So yeah, it’s hard to think about being somewhere else.” Snitker said he wouldn’t have it any other way: “…it’s fun to be at a ballpark, to be with young guys, active and outside. Get to travel around. It’s a great way (to make a living).”
He makes a point of showing support for his players. The first thing he told the team when taking over as the interim manager in 2016 was, “I’m not here to change things,” he told them. “I won’t sugarcoat anything, but I want to create an atmosphere where you can be successful.” His players describe him as having a comfortable, tranquil style that is relaxing for the players. The biggest compliment that can be made about Snitker’s style is that he puts every single player on his team before him. He has their needs as individuals in the forefront of his mind all the time.
Join me in rooting for the 62-year old Atlanta Braves manager. He’s living proof that it is never too late to fulfill your dreams.