The following interview took place April 11, 2007.
DallasCEO: In terms of leadership, you have to come in to a new job and get everyone’s respect and try to stay on everyone’s good side. How do you go about doing that?
Ron Washington: Honesty. I bring in a reputation. I’ve been where those guys are right now. I know the highs and the lows as well as they know them. And I know as a player the respect I wanted. I don’t have to pretend or walk around like I’m the boss. It’s already known who’s the man at the Texas Rangers, so I don’t have to portray that. I can talk baseball with these guys. Like you as a CEO of a business, I don’t know how often you get down to guys who wanted to work, but I can talk the game with those guys ’cause I’ve been there and done that. I also listen to what they want to say. I try to correct things that they think need to be corrected. I never put myself about them.
DallasCEO: Has your perception as a player, and even as an infield coach, third base coach, your perspective of management, has it changed at all? Surprised you at all?
RW: No, the only thing that’s different than what I’ve been doing is, I have a coaching staff that deal with me, that has certain jobs they have to do. I used to be that, I used to do that, so as a manager I found that my staff won’t allow me to do anything.
DallasCEO: How do you delegate people? Trust people?
RW: They key is to tell them how you want it done. I express how I like to have things done, and I back off and let them do their job. And if I see an area where I don’t see it done the way I want, I just go out and remind them, and I get out of the way.
DallasCEO: You’re known as being a nice guy. How do you throw out reminders that are nice, but in a constructive way?
RW: Saying something about something that makes them understand what I’m talking about, and get out of the way. A lot of times people say things and the direction they wanted to go in, they don’t make it clear. So I’m very clear about what I expect and about what I want. And the one thing I told them is, they need to listen to those guys out there. I don’t need any confrontation. You go work with all the knowledge, if there’s anything they question, then you got to convince them that what you’re saying is correct, and then you got the knowledge to go work and convince them. If you can’t convince them, then you might have to do it the way they want it done. Avoid confrontation. Because I do it the way you want it done doesn’t mean that it makes you smarter than me, or that it belittles my reputation or my knowledge of what I’m doing, it just means that we all can learn from everybody. As the guy that’s doing the brunt of the work, you can teach me too, but I have to let you know also that I still know more than you.
DallasCEO: Do you have to change your feeling with different coaches or players even, to respond to the carrot more than stick or the stick more than the carrot? Do you try to be consistent through how to lead, or do you change it based on who you’re talking to?
RW: No, I am consistent in the way I’m doing things, because I am a very simple guy. I believe in simplicity. I make things as simple as I possibly can, to a point. A lot of times guys do change, and there is so much other stuff involved that is not necessary. So I look at a situation and I eliminate. And once I eliminate, if they started with five [areas to focus on ] and three of them were unnecessary, I’m just down to two. It’s easier for a guy to catch on to two different things than five. Process of elimination. I think I was born to be what I am, because I’ve always been able to relate, to get my point across. A lot of times I let the guy that I’m dealing with think it’s his idea to get done what I need to get done.
DallasCEO: Not through manipulation?
RW: No. The time we put in, I’m going to be able to wield myself and my ideas on you by just you listening to what I’m saying, because what’s going to happen is you’re going to see what I said happen. And if I have to wait for you to see what I said happen, that’s fine, because you’re going to keep hearing what I’m saying, then finally you’re going to see it. And our guys back off because they get tired of repetition. I’m tired of telling him the same thing. Some of us get it quick, some of us don’t. But if you know the talent is there, no matter what part you’re in. If the talent is there, I will keep repeating.
DallasCEO: It sounds Zen-like. The bigger picture. You’re just going to have to trust me and I will guide you through it and we will get there.
RW: We will get there. I’m in the front of you to guide you, I’m behind you if you fall, and I’m on the side of you to let you know I’m with you.
DallasCEO: When did you know you were cut out for management? When you were playing?
RW: From the time I was 25 years old. I was in Mexico. In my days of playing baseball we used to get together and talk about the game after the game in the hotels. Today you don’t get much of that with the players. I found out I was able to figure things out. I found that I was able to talk to my fellow teammates that were struggling and let them see what is ahead if you follow the process. You can’t jump from A to C. You have to go through the process, and stay confident in the process, because you’re capable. If you’re not capable then there is a problem. But you’re capable. You’ve done this before. And if you’ve done this before then I think I can help you be more consistent with it because you’ve done it before.
DallasCEO: That’s great on long-term. But there are a lot of bumps on the way. How do you deal with it?
RW: There are always bumps. You deal with it in the preparation. If the preparation is impeccable, your focus is impeccable, your commitment is impeccable, then the bumps you’re gonna deal with. Because I know through all of these bumps, when you come out on the other end, then I’m gonna have something. No. 1, you gotta know that you got a quality person, so I’m willing to deal with your bumps, as long as you’re willing to give me the effort.
DallasCEO: That’s great internally. But what about externally? Critics. How do you handle that?
RW: The only people that know what’s really going on are the people that are inside [this organization]. The people outside are all going to have different opinions. A lot of it is going to be critical, and some of them will understand. But the only people in reality that know exactly what’s going on are the people on the inside. As long as we know that what we have going on the inside is going to get us to where we want to be with those people negative on the outside, then we just have to deal with the negative, deal with the booing. As soon as you straighten that out, all of a sudden those same people that were beating you down start loving you. And they think you don’t realize you were the one booing.
DallasCEO: Do you bother yourself with headaches like ticket sales?
RW: No I just focus on my product, which is the players, [that they are] ready every night. We can be ready every night and do everything right and still turn up fans. If I’m gonna turn out bad, then I want to turn out bad knowing that I did everything right. With that in mind, I don’t work on the bad times. In my business there’s no failure in success. We’re gonna fail. That’s why I say what happens on the outside and what people think on the outside don’t matter, as long as we know that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing on the inside, because we will change their opinion sooner or later.
DallasCEO: How do you motivate your players through that?
RW: By making them understand, no. 1, I’ve been in the winning situation, so I already got them right there because I come from a winning situation. No. 2, I’ve already got a reputation before I got here as a manager, as a communicator, as a teacher—a lot of things that’s missing in my business. And a lot of things that are missing, in communities communication is not happening a whole lot. There’s always somebody that wants to be the one to say I did that, and I don’t really care. All I care about is the job getting done. In the beginning, I went out and talked to my kids. And I let them know what I expect. All I expect of you is to do two things: be a professional and respect the game. If you be a professional and respect the game, all the work that we put in, that’s a part of being professional. All the work we put in, that’s the fundamentals, the fun, the hit-and-running, moving, the running of the bases, caring about each other—that’s professional. If you’re professional, all of that is incorporated in that.
DallasCEO: Do you think there is a specific kind of player who responds well to air management?
RW: They could bring anyone in here, and I think they will respond. Simply because I will give them respect, I don’t disrespect. I give them respect. The kids today, and it’s the same out there, everyone is different, society is completely different today than it was 20 years ago. The kids today ask why. [In the past,] you as my boss told me something, and I didn’t question it. Today they ask why. If you can’t answer them why, then you’ve lost them. They are dying for guidance. They are dying for someone to put their arms around them and tell them they care. Other people don’t believe that. They are dying for that. Dying for people to still have their back when they fail, they are dying for that. I know in baseball there is no perfection. There may be perfection out there in everyday living, but in baseball there is no perfection. So I have to accept the little mistakes that come with you. But I can help you master them by making sure that you’re professional. And if you’re professional in the way you go about your business, your little bitty mistakes are masked. And I know what they are, and I try not to put you in those positions.
DallasCEO: Another challenge is to hold on to being a nice guy. But there are times when you can’t mask the mistakes, you have to kick someone out of the starting rotation.
RW: I do that. I just call them in and tell them what I’m about to do. And I tell them what they have to do to right their [expletive deleted]. What I’m gonna do is put you over here for two or three days, and this is the process you’re gonna have to go through. You go through this process, then I’m gonna put you back in there. If you go through this process and you don’t take this process seriously, then when you get back and the same thing is flaring up then there has to be a change because there’s so much turnover. But I’m gonna protect you. While I’m protecting you, you have to do your part. Your part is to get your act together. Not everybody’s act is gonna be together the whole time, but if they know that you still have their back through failure, because I was one of them who failed, I know how they feel, you got time to get it together. Every day I will let them know they are still here. I’m not gonna forget about you because you’re [expletive deleted] right now, I’m gonna let you know you’re still here, still a part of this. Because we need you, we need everybody. Not just the nine we got out there. Every single person plays a role, and I want everybody here to feel like you’re no. 1, even though you might be no. 25. I want you to be no. 1 in your mind.
DallasCEO: In Moneyball that’s what they pick up on. Helping Scott Hatteberg believe in himself.
RW: Through him believing in himself, I was trying to teach him, he was able to take and use and become what he is. But if Hatteberg wouldn’t have accepted what I had given him, there would be no Hatteberg.
DallasCEO: What have you learned from managers that you played for?
RW: I learned more about what not to do then what to do because I’ve been in the game a long time, so I have an idea what to do. I used to always say to me, I don’t think I would do that. I never went to another guy saying that. I’m not in his seat. I can’t second guess what he’s doing, because he certainly has more knowledge of what he’s doing than me. I can only say to myself, Damn I wouldn’t do that. For me, all the time I’ve been in the game, I’ve never seen that work.
DallasCEO: What do you mean when you say that?
RW: Like, here we have a right-hander up in there throwing, and he’s got good [stuff] going that night. And then you get a lefty to come face the lefty, so you can ask the questions after the game. If you left that righty in there, he would have gave it up. I’m not a match-up man. If you’ve got good stuff and you a right-hander and the whole game I had you in there as a right hander going through that same lineup, and then all of a sudden I still feel like you’ve got good stuff, then I will say that I believe in him to get it. I have to answer questions. How can you say that I wasn’t right? ’Cause if he would have got him out, you wouldn’t ask that question. I will stand up for what I believe. I also say if you can come in and question what I do and I can accept that, then you have to accept why I did what I did. Even if you don’t like it.
DallasCEO: What do you hope your players say about you?
RW: That I’m honest, and most of all that I’ve got their back. That’s all I can do for them, because once the game’s done, I ain’t got nothing, I don’t get to pitch, catch, throw. But they know I’ve got their back.
DallasCEO: Across all sports when you get to this level, you don’t need to tell them.
RW: All I have to do is make sure that I got their back. I got their back. Whether they go up there and struggle tonight, I got their back. And I can feel it, because I’m not sitting in this seat as a guy that never played in the major leagues, never been booed by 70,000, never been cheered by 70,000. I’ve been on both sides. I know what they’re feeling when they have a rough time out there. And I know how to help them get through that, because I’ve already been there, I’ve already done that. I’m not any more special than any manager, it’s just that I do things the way I feel like since I was a player. I think like those guys. I feel like those guys. I haven’t put myself above those guys. I don’t look at the game like I’m smarter than you—which I know I am—but like I said, I don’t have to express that. So I get in the trenches with them. They know I’m the boss. My job is solely to do one thing. When it’s time to make a move out there, don’t be sleeping. Their job is to go out there, hit, pitch, catch, throw, and run. Mine is to make the moves that are supposed to be made. As long as I keep making the moves that I’m supposed to make, then I don’t have to worry about a damn thing. Because I got nothing to do with the pitching, the catching, the hitting, or the throwing. It’s all theirs. And I leave that to them.
DallasCEO: Do you feel you’ve got a lot of people looking over your shoulder?
RW: No. I’ve been in the game a long time. I have a lot of confidence in what I’m capable of bringing to the table, and I don’t question that. I don’t look over my shoulder, because when you do that, somebody passes you up. I’m focused straight ahead. I want them looking at my [expletive deleted] and my elbows. I don’t want to be looking at someone else’s [expletive deleted] and elbows. If I do something wrong, and [the front office] has something to say about it, then come and say it. If I keep doing something wrong enough and they come down here and say, ‘You’re gone,’ then I’m gone. No hard feelings. Nothing. That don’t demean what I am, and that don’t demean what my knowledge is, because I’ve been in the game so long, and I have a reputation in the game that if I lost a job here, that I would get another one. I’m a damn good infield instructor; I’m a damn good teacher. And those are two things that I’m not doing right now, because I have to oversee the manager for it. Every now and then, I infuse my knowledge in those two areas, but I don’t infuse them as much as all the knowledge I have because there’s someone else doing those jobs and I have to let them do it. But if I see a hiccup, I mention to them what I know about it, and I get out of the way.
DallasCEO: If you focus only on midfield, then the pitching goes haywire…
RW: My focus right now is on pitching, because if the manager, especially in the American League, your main goal is to make sure that you pay attention to pitcher. I have to take one out at the right time, I have to put one in at the right time. I have to try to keep putting them in positions where they succeed. My focus is really on that, and then letting these guys see what I see. Whatever I see that’s happening in the ball game, I will bring it up in the dugout. Like we might be swinging too early at this guy and not giving him a chance to get in trouble. And the first thing I let them know is make this guy work, make him throw you strikes before you start swinging the bat. Are we chasing too many bad pitches? He wants to walk us, give him an opportunity. And I’ll watch and I will see, okay, they listened. Why’d they listen? They respect my knowledge. I don’t keep it away from them. I share with them, and I get their response to it, and if their response is different than what I’ve been giving, then we talk about it. If you can make me believe what you’re saying is right, then we go that way. But I’m adamant about what I know to be right. And I will keep telling you about it, and pretty soon you will see. And once you see it, then I got you.
DallasCEO: Everyone makes analogies to baseball.
RW: Even baseball players make an analogy through baseball to everyday living out there. That’s how I conduct my life. Even when I’m on the outside, I use my perseverance, my knowledge, my commitment to deal with everyday life out there. I’ve had two jobs in my life other than baseball. Each one of those jobs I had, I had the lowest job. And the highest guys saw me working in the lowest job, wanted me to come to the highest part of the lowest jobs. I was a truck driver in a furniture company. And the way he’s seen the way I handled stacking furniture, and the way I handled the people that I brought the furniture to, and the way people would call back and tell them how nice I was and what I did, all of a sudden they want me to come in the front office and put on a tie and work in sales and go out in the community. I told them that’s not me. I’m a baseball player. I’ve never did labor in my life. I only did this because I had some time. I don’t want to be in the front office doing that, I’m a baseball guy. But my baseball skills and my perseverance and dealing with people apart from baseball, I was able to relate there, and all I was doing was packing furniture, driving a truck and delivering it. But the respect that I was giving to the people that I was associating with on a daily basis, it got back to the bosses. And the bosses started paying attention to me while I was in the warehouse. Next think you know, I’m in sales.
DallasCEO: Do you believe in karma?
RW: Exactly. People don’t care how much you know, they only care how you made them feel after you talk to them. Everybody that I ever met, when I finished talking with you, I think I left a good impression. And that means a lot to a lot of people. Not that I’m trying to force this on anybody, that’s just my personality. I’m not gonna let any negative energy infuse me. Especially in what I do for a living, because there’s so much failure. I realized this at 25 years old. I don’t worry about failure. If your people go out there and lose you money, the first thing you do is call a [expletive deleted] meeting and you bring those son of a [expletive deleted] in there and you chew some [expletive deleted] and tell them to get your [expletive deleted] out there and get my [expletive deleted] money back, but if you [expletive deleted] go out there and keep losing my [expletive deleted], then get another [expletive deleted] job. That’s simplicity. We all make mistakes. Let’s recoup this [expletive deleted]. If you didn’t think like that, you will keep losing. If we don’t recoup it, you all better [expletive deleted] look for a better [expletive deleted] job. If you sit on the other side as a guy doing the front work, if you can’t understand that, then you in the wrong [expletive deleted] place. All you got to do is get the [expletive deleted] up and get my [expletive deleted] money back. And the next thing you do is get on the phone and make more [expletive deleted] plans. That’s your job. To get the business. Their job is to keep the business [expletive deleted] striving. Keep people happy. If millionaires would stop firing [expletive deleted] because they lost [expletive deleted], they wouldn’t be millionaires. But they let those son of a [expletive deleted] know that’s unacceptable. You got your job today, you might not have that [expletive deleted] tomorrow if you keep that [expletive deleted] up. Everybody knows where I stand, you know where you stand. Let’s go to [expletive deleted] work.