Tony La Russa Shares His Thoughts on Leadership at the 19th Annual ASC Conference

At the 19th Annual Ambulatory Surgery Centers Conference in Chicago on Oct. 25, Tony La Russa, manager of the 2011 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, and former Major League Baseball infielder, discussed his take on leadership and management in front of conference attendees.

His leadership philosophy is simple but powerful, and it all begins with building a cohesive team aligned around core values. In baseball, where players can change each year, Mr. Russo said it's important to start each season developing the players into a cohesive unit.

"Every year the idea is you start at zero," he said. He explained that at the beginning of each season he asks his players to raise their hands if they believe they are members of the St. Louis Cardinals team. Inevitably, all those that are new to the team that year raise their hands. He then tells them they're not a team — yet. "Right now you are guys with the same uniform," he said. "Over time you become a team."

Tony La RussaWhat core values does Mr. La Russa believe a team should have? "Respect, trust, caring," he said. He explained he feels a little hokey saying it in an era when more and more teams fill their rosters based on statistics and computer-driven analysis, but added, "I'm here to tell you what I would do if I was building my team," and that, of course, would be to select players based on their alignment with these three core values.

Mr. La Russa also explained the importance of personalizing leadership. "You try to establish a relationship with each person…and you work at it…you're doing it every day," he explained. He added that personalization is a "very hard way to coach; most people don’t want to work that hard, but the giveback is enormous."

After Mr. La Russa has built the players into a team, he focuses on setting the bar high for his players and helping them succeed while under pressure. "Acknowledge that results are expected; pressure is out there, but you can make it your friend," he said. How does he help players make pressure their "friend?" He says three things are key: preparation, repetition and focus on the process, not the outcome. "I can coach pressure," he said.

Preparation helps remove the level of anxiety surrounding high-pressure situations, explained Mr. La Russa. He illustrated this concept by explaining just as studying for a test reduces your anxiety when you take the test (and not studying increases it), the same goes for baseball, and really, any activity in life.

Repetition, or the number of times you do something under pressure, will also help improve your performance. "The more often you can really feel the pressure, the more you learn about how you need to handle it."

Finally, focusing on the process, not the result, is something Mr. La Russa called a "golden rule," explaining that if you focus on what you have to achieve — a base hit, for example — the pressure only increases. Instead, focus on the process. Doing so will be more likely to result in the outcome you want.

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