‘60 Minutes’ Reveals How Social Intelligence Helped the Cubs Win the World Series

Changing Behavior to Change the Game

How did the Chicago Cubs end the longest championship drought in sports, winning their first World Series in 108 years? If you watched “60 Minutes” on May 7, you learned that social intelligence played an important role in the team’s transformation.

Cubs General Manager Theo Epstein, who is no. 1 on the Fortune 2017 World’s Greatest Leaders List, described how the team made a deliberate effort to develop the social intelligence traits of high-performing people and organizations. These traits included:

  • Agility
  • Resiliency
  • Versatility

 Using Agility to Think Differently

In his first year, Epstein wasted no time in changing behaviors that the team’s front office had gotten comfortable with. He injected more creative thinking into how the organization decided which players to draft. While most rebuilding teams choose pitchers the Cubs focused on position players, as research shows they don’t get hurt as often as pitchers. They began rebuilding the team around defense rather than paying big contracts for big hitters—another common approach favored by struggling teams.

The team continued to go against the grain by not relying solely on “Moneyball,” a popular approach by teams today that banks on players’ on-field stats.

In fact, Epstein chose a wildly different path by analyzing how players behaved off the field. The new GM thought the Cubs could build a stronger culture by bringing in position players with a high degree of character.

Team Manager John Madden put it this way: “We love our numbers geeks, but that’s not what won the World Series. The heart won the World Series. Not a thing to do with math.”

By choosing athletes who demonstrated qualities that could lead to them becoming forward thinking, innovative team players, Epstein began creating a new, agile culture ready to adapt and implement changes in the team’s thinking and behavior.

Developing Resilience to Bounce Forward

The team’s ownership relied on the club’s history and the allure of Wrigley Field more so than wins to turn a profit even as the Cubs fell short of winning a championship year after year.

According to team owner Thomas Ricketts, they needed to change the mindset of being “those loveable losers.” To demonstrate they could leave failure behind, they needed resilience.

Bouncing back from tough losses wasn’t enough—they needed to bounce forward from adversity. Many people think being resilient means merely getting back up when times get tough. The Cubs began to understand the reality: resiliency means using learning from the past to change your future. They took the difficult lessons learned in times of failure and turned them into strategies for success.

To build a resilient organization, Epstein needed to nurture resilient players. He asked scouts to identify prospective players based on specific behavioral traits that revealed character. He directed them to interview those people who knew the players best: girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, friends, enemies, teammates, parents, siblings and teachers.

He wanted to know: How have these players responded to adversity on the field? How have they responded to adversity off the field? What motivates them?

A resilient mindset became as important as a player’s on-field statistics when the team’s leaders sat down to decide who would make the ball team.

“Baseball’s a game with a ton of adversity inherent in it, and players who tend to respond to adversity the right way are players with strong character,” Epstein said. “If you have enough guys like that in the clubhouse, you have an edge on the other team.”

Becoming Versatile to Build Teamwork

There was one more important behavioral attribute the Cubs GM wanted to know about each player: How well does this person treat others?

Epstein understands that strong teams are built by high-performing individuals who can adapt to the styles and strengths of others, even when those styles are different than their own.

Off the field, the team has built a culture of trust, teamwork and dedication to a common vision. Not surprisingly, those are many of the same traits seen in the most successful businesses.

On the field, well, you know the story: For 103 years, the Cubs fell short of winning the championship.  So they hired Theo Epstein from the Boston Red Sox in 2012 to build a winning organization. He baked Agility, Resiliency and Versatility into a five-year strategic plan to turn the team around. The organization’s implementation of that plan led to achieving baseball’s ultimate goal in the fifth year.

While traditional businesses may compete for vastly different accomplishments, they can apply these same social intelligence strategies to improve their performance.

Learn more about the Cubs’ successful transformation here. 

Learn more about SOCIAL STYLE and Versatility here. 

Learn more about the Resilience Model here. 

Learn more about Agility here.