How To Go from Worst to First

By: Jan Bolick

Red Socks

Just last year, the Boston Red Sox had  93 losses.
They were last in their league.
The worst team record in 47 years.

And now they are the 2013 World series champions.

What helped them go from worst to first?

Here are a few things – all of which can help other leaders and teams – at any rank and in any field.

The Power of Beards & Slogans

It all started in spring training.  First there was one beard, then two, then three.

Red Sox Beards

Soon there was a beard identification chart


and fans could follow the beards on Twitter @RedSoxBeards and/or hash tags like #getbeard.


Wally & fans
Pretty soon, fans were wearing beards.  Including Wally.  That’s  him in the middle.
Beards were even seen on jack-o-lanterns.


Throughout the season, the bearded players laughed and joked and hugged each other and pulled on each others beards.
Beard pulling Sox

“Every team needs something.  We all knew what the big picture was, what we were trying to do. But there had to be something to bring people together.”

“That stuff is totally irrelevant to baseball.  But if everybody gets on the same page, maybe it does help. Good teams seem to have certain music or ways they celebrate. Quirky things can bring people together.”

Jonny Gomes, Leftfielder & owner of the first beard at Spring Training


It was silly, quirky fun while they took on the serious mission of helping their city heal from bombs that went off on April 15 at the Boston Marathon finish line.  It was just around the corner from Fenway Park where the team had just finished playing a few hours before.

For the rest of the season, team members took a leadership role on the field and off.  Helping victims and the entire city to B Strong and stay strong.  They reminded themselves and everyone around them with patches on their jerseys


and signage at Fenway Park.
The Green Monster
They even mowed the message into the field.
Fenway field

For away games, players created a ceremonial 617 (Boston’s area code) jersey to hang in the dug out.   It hung in the home dugout too.

The team wanted to B Strong and Stay Strong.  Not just for the Red Sox – but for Boston.  After all – as David Ortiz said,  “That’s what our jersey says – Boston – not Red Sox”.

As you probably already know, I love quotes, slogans, celebrations and other sometimes silly antics that that make work fun.    Our monthly calendar is full of excuses to celebrate.  It includes ideas that will inspire and instruct.  Ideas to help unify.  Ideas for relieving stress and fear.

All very powerful.  Yet – not powerful enough to take a team from worst to first.

More is needed.   Here’s how it’s described on each of our Celebration Calendar pages:

If you’ve had the pedal to the medal, pushing hard to make sales quotas, budget projections and production schedules, we urge you to take a break for a bit of nonsenseand about laughter.

But we must point out that while fun and games can boost all of the above, it can be just like a sugar high, ready for a crash.

The foundation of good morale and productivity is hiring the right people. Yes – don’t hire grumps. And the people must have clear roles, responsibilities, expectations and goals. And they must receive training and coaching which includes feedback, direction, support and recognition from a trusted manager or coach.

So yes – the beards and slogans were powerful, fun and gave them focus; but not powerful enough to go from worst to first.

More than Beards and Slogans

To go from worst to first, the Red Sox needed more than beards and slogans.  Did you see the hint in the gray box above.

They needed the right people.

And they needed the right kind of coaching.

It wasn’t about hiring more experienced people or paying them more or providing more benefits.

What was most important to Red Sox General Manger, Ben Cherington was – does this guy really want to be on our team – in Boston?

Cherington said,

“To me, you have a choice whether you’re a player, a manager or an executive. You embrace the opportunity that comes along with working in Boston, or you focus more on the challenge of working in a place like Boston. We were trying to the fill the team as much as possible with guys who would do the former.”

My interpretation.  The challenges are there. Tough challenges.  We can’t do anything about some of it.  We can do something about some of it.  Let’s embrace the opportunity to do whatever we can do as a team.  These words became the foundation of our Leadership Quote of the Week.

Cherington made this expectation clear as he selected players for the team and ended up replacing 14 out of his 25 players.

Three of these were “stars” who didn’t seem to want to be on the team.  He traded them and their combined salaries of $263 million to another team, and later picked up seven free agents for $100 million.  It wasn’t about saving $163 million though.  It was about having people on the team who really wanted to be in Boston and on his team.

Before dumping the bad apples on your team, consider what I mentioned a few paragraphs ago about the Red Sox needing the right coaching.

I’m sure you’ve seen it over and over.  A problem employee becoming a star under a different leader, a different leadership style, different life circumstances – a whole host of variables.

Toward the end of the 2012 season, the Red Sox Manager told media that David Ortiz had” quit” the team.  Meaning that he wasn’t working hard and wasn’t a team player.

Considering that, plus the fact that Ortiz was 37 years old and considered by many to be at the end of his career – it would have been easy to consider Ortiz a bad apple that needed to be dumped.

Ortiz didn’t get dumped.  And look what he did in 2013.   He hit 35 home runs and was the MVP of the World Series.  A  team hero.  A Boston hero.  A national hero.

His new manager was John Farrell.  Farrell called for a “relentless  approach to baseball”.  He wanted to keep the focus on what was happening on the field – the game of baseball.

Back to the beards for a minute.  Some managers, some teams would have gotten riled up about the beards and pointed to the no facial hair rule in the policy manual.  The Red Sox have no such policy and Farrell had no objection.

Farrell said,

“We wanted talented guys who were good teammates. If this is how they express being good teammates, that’s fine with me. You need to provide a boundary of what is acceptable. But within that there is room for individuality.

It’s a signature for this team.  It’s a bonding element. You have to have ways to have fun sometimes. It takes the focus off the daily grind.”

Daily grind is right. Imagine playing 162 games in 182 days all over the USA and Canada.   Plus  more games if post-season play is earned.

The associated challenges of such a schedule are endless.    And then there are the challenges of .

  • coming off a losing season
  • playing for a passionate, demanding and sometimes critical fan base
  • of playing through injuries or getting sidelined by them
  • plus many more

all of which can make the job hard, frustrating, unmanageable, undoable in the eyes of all on the team.  Focusing on such challenges can easily lead to complaining, criticism, decension, animosity and being the worst in the league.

To go from worst to first, the Red Sox leaders:

  • filled their team with competent and committed players who were willing to embrace the opportunity to be part of the team,
  • provided direction, structure and focus on what was happening on the field
  • but they weren’t so rigid that they squelched enthusiasm and fun

Meanwhile – slogans served to remind and reinforce their focus and commitment to B Strong and Stay Strong.

And the beards – those provided laughs, common ground and  connection between players, coaches and fans.

A connection that helped all embrace the opportunity and each other.

red sox -embrace

 Related Post:  You’re Out!



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2 Responses to “How To Go from Worst to First”

  1. Kathleen Peppers on November 11th, 2013 12:05 pm

    Wow what a great message today. I so enjoyed this and felt I needed it also.Thank you Jan…..Kathy Peppers

  2. on November 12th, 2013 12:33 am

    Hi Kathy
    So glad you enjoyed it and that it was timely.
    Shall we grow beards?

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