Fortune magazine just unveiled it’s 2017 Top 50 World’s Greatest Leaders list. And there, atop the heap, sits a most unlikely candidate–the leader of a most unlikely overnight success 108 years in the making.
Theo Epstein, President of the Chicago Cubs and recipient of the honor (following the Cubs dramatic World Series win last year), was flabbergasted when he learned of the top honor.
Think how the Pope felt when he learned he only landed third on the list.
Epstein’s response was dismissive, calling the honor “patently ridiculous”.
And then came the one authentic line that sums up why a man such as Epstein would be so uncomfortable with the honor in the first place:
“And I’m not even the best leader in our organization: our players are.”
A leader that puts the team on a pedestal and dodges credit.
But the only place a leader such as this can hide is at the top of such a list.
The truth is, Epstein, so quick to dismiss his role as a world-class leader, exudes the very things that put him in such stature in the first place.
A self-deprecating sense of humor. One of Epstein’s first responses to the honor was “Um, I can’t even get my dog to stop peeing in my house”.
And an understanding of what really makes for a great team. Not just raw performance statistics, but character, developing relationships with and among players, and ensuring the team is in the best possible position to do what they’re paid to do–win.
As Epstein said in Tom Verducci’s The Cubs Way, “If we can’t find the next technological breakthrough, well, maybe we can be better than anyone else with how we treat our players and how we connect with players and the relationships we develop and how we put them in positions to succeed.”
By the way, it’s that same obsession with character that also allowed Epstein to fashion a World Championship Boston Red Sox team.
As soon as Epstein left that organization for the Cubs, cracks in character started showing, epitomized by one clubhouse comment on the crumbling Sox team that made it back to Epstein’s disgusted ears, “Why do we want to play in October anyway, we don’t get paid for that.”
Losers hide behind excuses. Winners hide behind the success of their team.
If you’re curious, the next four World’s Greatest Leaders on the list (after Epstein) are Jack Ma (Chairman of Alibaba), Pope Francis, Melinda Gates, (co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation) and Jeff Bezos.
So Epstein’s in good company.
But I bet he’d rather be among the company within the company he built–a team of loveable winners.
A team built on character and humility.
A team (and a leader) that might inspire you to look at yourself and your scouting report differently as you work to build your own World Championship team.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.