Be a Successful Leader – 8 Essential Leadership Lessons From Terry Francona of the Boston Red Sox

Posted on May 21, 2010


Baseball Manager Terry Francona’s leadership was key to the Red Sox success in sweeping the World Series. Separately, reporters Kevin Thomas of The Portland Press Herald and Jackie Macmullan of The Boston Globe published compelling portrayals of Francona. Here are eight essential lessons in leadership for any situation, illustrated by Francona’s winning example in their stories.

1. Stay calm. Francona is known for his patient temperament, even in the face of high stakes games. Players report that the boss’s patience helps them win. When you’re calm, those who work with you, for you and for whom you work can stay cool too. A low key demeanor benefits everybody by keeping them focused on achievement, not drama.

2. Trust others. Francona uses the elegant strategy of simply allowing his team to play their game, according to players. Mistrust is distracting. With trust, you minimize your subordinates’ or teammates’ worry about letting the team down or being let go. You enable them to focus 100% on task, greatly increasing the odds of success. It’s a fact that people perform better when they aren’t distracted.

By the time a baseball player reaches the major leagues, he’s already proven his expertise at fundamentals. It’s foolish (or worse – negligent) to set someone loose in a situation where they need training and assume that trust will work. But when your team member is ready, trust is the way to go.

3. Ignore critics. Francona doesn’t let naysayers guide his decisions, saying, “I don’t … run to see how I’m perceived.” He knows that by being impervious to criticism, you avoid mood swings that can derail performance, setting an example for your team.

4. Pay attention to facts. Just because you ignore criticism doesn’t mean that you should be deaf and blind to reality. Francona knows that fans only see part of the story during actual games. He, on the other hand, sees how players perform in practice. Likewise, it’s important for you to have a holistic view of your team members’ performance at different times and in different situations. This speaks to being a leader with substance who is both knowledgeable about team competencies and loyal. The respect you get in return will pay off in your team’s shared commitment to your common mission.

5. Be consistent. One of the things that many people look for in a leader is the ability to be true to a course. Terry Francona has said that’s a big part of his job, but at the same time admits that he’s not right all the time. Does this mean you should stay to a course when it’s clearly wrong? No. It means that changes of course should be the exception, and for a good reason, rather than the rule.

6. Be humble. Francona admits to at times being stubborn but recognizes that it was more hindrance than help. It distracted from the game. It’s not about you, it’s about team success. Keep reminding yourself of that and you will be a better leader.

7. Honesty is the best policy. We all hate bad news but dishonesty has a way of backfiring. What’s more, saying nothing at all creates uncertainty. Sox players report that Francona is scrupulously honest with them about their performance. And, they like that. If your team members are guessing, what do you think is going through their minds that may be dead wrong? How might that affect their performance? Honest communication is best.

8. Follow your instincts. Francona regrets not doing this early in his career but now reports that he does what he thinks is right and stays true to himself. Listen to your intuition. Not rational, it happens “behind the scenes” in your unconscious mind — you just know what to do. If you don’t, spend more time in quiet contemplation, take a break, or sleep on it. Remember, your unique contribution to any team is to be yourself!

The eight essential leadership lessons that Terry Francona offers will keep you on track to lead your team to greater success. They require you to develop your own style and self confidence, not necessarily a quick or easy undertaking but one well worth your effort.


Macmullan, Jackie. “Francona has managed to succeed”, The Boston Globe, October 24, 2007. Accessed online at:

Thomas, Kevin. “The Maestro always in tune”, Portland Press Herald, October 24, 2007, p. L1.

Interested in becoming a better leader? Visit my website resources for more information about leadership, especially for professionals and those who may be introverts.

Author: Joyce Shelleman, PhD is a specialist in organizations and leadership. For more information, visit

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