Here in Boston, the Red Sox implosion has dominated the headlines for the past week. Manager Terry Francona has exited. Now attention has turned to General Manager Theo Epstein. How much blame does he deserve? Most people would place significant responsibility on Theo for selecting a series of high-priced players who have under-performed badly. However, observers then note that he has won two World Series during his tenure. Theo typically receives much credit for those championships. However, a closer look reveals that a number of key players from those teams were not selected by Theo. Consider the importance of Manny Ramirez, Johhmy Damon, Kevin Youkilis, Jason Varitek, Jon Lester, and others who were chosen by the prior regime (as well as Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell who came in a trade engineered when Theo briefly quit in 2006).
Consider too the credit given to Bill Belichick for the Patriots' three Super Bowl championships. Clearly, he deserves great credit for coaching those teams. However, what about player selection? Naturally, he chose most of the players. However, a small core of crucial players, particularly on defense, were chosen by Bill Parcells. Belichick has not won a Super Bowl without that core. Those core players include Ted Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Troy Brown, Ty Law, Ted Johnson, and Adam Vinateri. That's a key group not brought to the team by Belichick.
What's the lesson for those in business? Be careful when evaluating leaders at all levels. Performance lags decisions and actions by quite some time in many firms. Thus, today's success or failure often cannot easily be attributed solely to today's leaders. For this reason, firms also need to be careful with rotational programs. Moving folks too quickly can make it very difficult to judge their performance accurately.