Joseph Lee's Perspectives
My view of the world
March 26, 2009 World Baseball Classic, Culture, and Short-sightedness

If you were anywhere near Dodger Stadium on Monday night, you heard the drums and the thunder sticks of 45,000 South Korean fans drowning out the 5,000 Japanese fans, not to mention the 4,816 Americans there just to watch a good ball game.   And a good ball game the two teams from Japan and Korea delivered—a nail biter ending in the 10th inning when global superstar Ichiro singled home the two winning runs.

ESPN broadcast the game with expert commentary.   The dialogue would always shift toward—why isn’t Team USA in the finals, and what could Major League Baseball do to change the attitude of the owners who refuse to part with their best players during the spring?

Joe Morgan would holler, “Hey, this WBC stuff is great, but it’s just an exhibition.”   Down on the field, the Korean base stealer slides into second-base head first and comes up with a cracked helmet and a splitting head-ache.   In an earlier game, Steve Phillips claims, “It’s our egos that refuse to believe that anything coming from a foreign country can be better than our own,” to which Orel Hersheiser responded, “I wouldn’t call it that.  It’s just that we have different priorities.”   The announcer (sorry, forgot his name), trying to play middle ground asked Orel, “If you had a chance to pitch for the USA in the WBC in your days, would you do it?”  And when Orel answered, “No,” announcer probably wished he had some of those thunder sticks to drown out the silence in the booth.

We live in a world of self-interest, and nowhere is it more obvious than on Wall Street.  But the reality is that it is all over us, a culture that is engrained in everything that we do.   In our business world, we throw around the word “corporate culture” like it is the magical explanation for anything organizational that we don’t understand.  

“AIG had a culture of corruption.”  “Citigroup had a culture of overspending.”  “Lehman Brothers had a culture of taking unnecessary risks.”    

Lou Gerstner, former chief of IBM, in an address to the World Business Forum in 2004 said that “Corporate Culture is what employees do without being told.”

It is what CNN, MSNBC, and FOX reporters do--creating the news to boost ratings, rather than reporting it.  It is what executives do—trying to make money, rather than taking care of the company’s employees or shareholders.    It is what employees do—accept bonuses they didn’t earn, rather than returning it to the company.  It is what American Idol singers do—claim they were just having a good time, rather than admitting they didn’t have the talent.  It is what baseball owners do—protecting their team, rather than thinking of the greater good of the country or of the game.   It is what ball players do—getting ready for the season, rather than sacrificing their year for the greater good of the country or of the game.

But there are always the few who rise above the fray.  The injury ridden US team.  The whistleblower in Enron.  The entire Korean and Japanese baseball squads.    

Who in the business world will demonstrate this type of leadership?   Are you one of those leaders who can look ahead beyond self-interest?  And how do we balance self-survival against the “greater good?”

Perhaps Steve Phillips and Orel Hersheiser were both right.   Big Egos and Existing Priorities didn’t allow the US to field its best team.    Thirteen years ago, I was lectured by a Japanese executive who claimed that Japanese baseball was the best and that no one in their right mind in Japan would turn to watch American baseball.  He was proved to be wrong a few years later when MLB games featuring Ichiro, Matsui, and Matsuzaka became routinely televised in Japan.   “What short-sightedness,” I thought of the man.

“Baseball owners have invested too much in the players,” Joe Morgan said on Monday, “and they’re not about to watch their investments get banged up in these exhibition games, as important as they might be.”

What short-sightedness.


Joseph Lee is an independent consultant and executive coach.  He is also an Adjunct Professor at both the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management and Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business and Management where he teaches second-year MBA courses in Management Consulting.   In addition, Mr. Lee is also an author, writing International Business Thrillers, including his debut novel The Sky Burns Red (赤く燃える空) which was published in Japan.   A sequel is scheduled to be released fall, 2009.

2009-03-26 09:48:01 GMT
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