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Leadership Lessons from the Field

Duke professor and alumnus extract business knowledge from baseball

November 07, 2008
Will Mitchell, J. Rex Fuqua Professor of International Management, Professor of Strategy

Will Mitchell, J. Rex Fuqua Professor of International Management, Professor of Strategy

DURHAM, N.C. –-  Baseball fans who trumpet or bemoan their teams’ deals seem to always assign credit for the brilliant move, or blame for the lousy decision, to the team’s General Manager. Likewise, investors and industry watchers look first to a company’s Chief Executive Officer whenever they assign praise or blame for a decision.

But professors Will Mitchell of The Fuqua School of Business and Jeff Barden of the University of Washington (a graduate of Duke’s Ph.D. program) have recently demonstrated that traditional understanding of a GM’s role in his team’s trade decisions may be flawed. In their analysis of the 1,657 Major League trades that occurred between 1985 and 2003, Barden and Mitchell found that teams’ prior experiences working and trading together were more predictive of future trades than General Managers’ experiences working together. Barden and Mitchell’s paper was published in the December 2007 Academy of Management Journal .

What’s most important, they say, is not that a GM or CEO have all of the answers all of the time, but that they create a strong team of people who can gather and assess the information that the senior leaders need to make good decisions. Indeed, this may be one of the most important skills for a senior leader. In order to succeed, a leader must be able to build a strong organization instead of simply stepping in and immediately making drastic changes based solely on their own experience and gut sense. 

To learn more about strategy research at Fuqua, visit the Strategy area Web site .