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Do the little things that matter

Scott Harris, the president of baseball operations at the Detroit Tigers, paid attention to the little things of leadership, which has made a huge difference, writes John Baldoni.

3 min read


little things

Detroit Tigers' Scott Harris (Photo: Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

“He met with every player, wanting to find out how the franchise could do a better job of supporting them, and he ended up doing far more listening than talking. The feedback from players convinced him that changes were needed.”

The “he” in this paragraph, penned by Detroit Free Press writers Evan Petzold and Jeff Seidel, is Scott Harris, the president of baseball operations at the Detroit Tigers. Harris, though still in his late 30s, came to the Tigers with an impressive pedigree; he served in an executive capacity with the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants. In the nearly year and a half that Harris has held this position with the Tigers, he has been a cross between a sponge and an executive. A sponge is soaking up information — an executive in making decisions.

And decisions need to be made. Owner Chris Illitch hired Harris to make some changes. And they were necessary. The Tigers have not won a World Series since 1984 and have not been in a Series in over a decade. In the 2020s, they have had a win percentage under .500.

Listen first

“It’s pretty cool what he did,” Tiger catcher Jake Rogers told the Free Press. “He did a lot more than we expected. He really listened, which is pretty cool from an owner. To have meetings with Scott Harris and listen to him and be like, ‘Hey, look, this is what the guys are saying.’ And he didn’t have to do any of it. It’s changes to literally everything.”

That one statement sums up what leaders who seek to make changes need to do before they make any significant change: listen. And listen some more. And such lessons extend far beyond the baseball diamond. Part of listening means following the way of the gemba, the Japanese term referring to “where the work is.” Harris, based in Detroit, visited all the Tiger facilities, from spring training in Lakeland, Fla., to the minor league parks. 

Among the players’ wish lists were upgrades to the clubhouse, including new showers and a modernized weight room with cardio-strengthening equipment. A new cafeteria was also added to the spring training facilities. Harris presented this wish list to owner Illitch, who approved it. While these upgrades incurred costs, they may have more than paid for themselves in terms of player goodwill.

“Little things” matter

The lesson for managers everywhere is to pay attention to the little things. Making small changes that employees request are small in scope but can be enormous in terms of outcome. It is not the prerequisite that matters; it is the fact that a manager listens. And, like Scott Harris, willing to take these concerns to the owner who signs the check.

New facilities do not build championship teams. Players do. In that regard, Harris and his scouting team have drafted, promoted and signed talented players to set a foundation for future success. Nothing is guaranteed in baseball – as in life – but when leaders at the top listen and act, then good things can occur.


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