By Rebecca Herman @TheBaseballPHD / MajorLeagueLeader.com
March 4, 2016
Spring Training is underway and Brad Ausmus has launched his third year as the Skipper of the Detroit Tigers. From an amazing freshman outing in 2014 with a 90-72 (.556) record and post-season berth, Ausmus struggled in 2015 as his team was plagued with injuries and a below expectations record of 74-87 (.460) with $162MM payroll, the 6th highest in MLB last year. The very near flip-flop of the win-loss record (-.096) had many calling for his job; however, Tigers’ GM, Al Avila, chose to stay the course with Ausmus. The 2016 year will be a true test of Ausmus’ leadership, especially with ownership investing in key players in the offseason to bolster depth of the starting rotation, bullpen, and outfield. The Tigers payroll is sitting at $192MM and is currently the 4th highest in MLB.
Brad Ausmus clearly has a passion for the game of baseball. Drafted in 1987, baseball has been a major part of his life, and his profession, for nearly 30 years. Ausmus balanced his love of the game with his yearning for an Ivy League education at Dartmouth. Not many people have the drive and persistence to balance a Yankees draft and subsequent Minor League assignment while attending college and graduating. This also was an opportunity for Ausmus to test the waters on coaching and servant leadership by volunteering as a coach and bullpen catcher for Dartmouth.
Leading by example is an important trait because others learn from watching the leader’s behaviors and habits. Ausmus regularly demonstrates positive traits of leading by example. Players, such as Ian Kinsler, have noted that he is extremely consistent and never gets out of control or too emotional. GM, Al Avila, has been impressed that Ausmus remains calm and stays the course even when things are going poorly.
To lead effectively, it is imperative that a leader has the respect of his team. There is a bit of respect that comes with title and position but that is often short-lived if actions don’t back it up. Coming into his MLB Manager role in 2014, Ausmus brought respect with him from his stellar playing career, experience in the front office for the Padres, and being known as one of the brightest people in baseball. That respect was tested in his second season when the Tigers faltered after numerous injuries. However, with Ausmus’ job was on the line, the players rallied behind him and did not give up. This seems to have been a key factor in Avila’s decision to retain Ausmus for 2016.
While leading yourself is the first step toward becoming a Major League Leader, leading others is the true pinnacle of leadership. Getting to know your people and cultivating meaningful relationships is a foundational requirement for successful leadership. Brad Ausmus is known to spend time with individual players and to take a very personal approach with each one. Through time spent with his players, he is able to solidify his role while understanding the individual more clearly and opening a window for getting the best out of each person.
When it comes to leading the game as a whole, Ausmus has a great capacity to demonstrate expert knowledge and share that with his team in a manner to produce results. As a Gold Glove catcher, Ausmus knows what it takes to be successful, how to effectively call a game, and how to communicate with the team. His GM is continually impressed with the amount of preparation that Ausmus puts into each day.
For Spring Training, Ausmus has stated that he is working to develop the Tigers into a great baserunning team. It is no surprise that he wants them to run “the bases intelligently” versus merely aggressively. Improving in this one area alone could have a very positive affect on game outcomes throughout the 2016 season.
In this pivotal year for Brad Ausmus, he needs to demonstrate that he is the right man to be the long-term leader for the Detroit Tigers. He has the knowledge, skill, and ability as well as the support of the front office and his players. Pulling the pieces together, overcoming adversity, and developing his own brand of a winning culture are his keys for success.
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Dr. Rebecca Herman is a Leadership Professor, Best Selling Author, Keynote Speaker, and writes about Leadership & Baseball at the Major League Leader. Follow @TheBaseballPHD on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
Material from interviews, wire services, beat writers, bloggers, league, and team sources was used in this report. Additional, more specific sources include:
Baseball Statistics from Baseball Reference
MLB Salary Data from sportrac
Major League Leadership from Lead Me Out to the Ballgame