What Can We Learn About Leadership and Accountability From MLB's Mickey Callaway Debacle?

March 3, 2021 7 min read

It has not been a banner year for New York Mets brass, and it’s not even Opening Day. In January, their general manager was let go after credible allegations surfaced that he harassed a female member of the media. Then came reports that the team had also dispatched hitting coordinator Ryan Ellis for what the New York Times referred to as “explicit and threatening overtures” toward team employees dating back to 2018. And earlier this week, Mets president Sandy Alderson conceded that the organization had failed to thoroughly vet former manager Mickey Callaway. Callaway helmed the club from 2018-’19, and has since come under scrutiny for allegedly harassing multiple women, including reporters, with inappropriate texts and photos over a five-year span — a period in which he was employed by the Mets, Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Angels. Callaway, entering his second season as the Angels pitching coach, is currently under suspension by the team, pending the results of a joint investigation with Major League Baseball. 

As in-depth coverage from sports outlets including the Athletic and ESPN has revealed, Callaway’s conduct was purportedly a “worst-kept secret” around baseball, and in the very locker rooms where he was granted significant authority in roles that paid him millions

So, how is this possible and permissible nearly half a decade on from the origins of #MeToo, amidst an era of surging workplace equity and comeuppance for men who abuse positions of power? And is the situation surrounding Callaway — and the Mets’ uniquely acute, questionable series of personnel moves — emblematic of how much we still have to learn, or simply a shameful anomaly with clear solutions? 

Entrepreneur Press author and Entrepreneur contributor Caroline Stokes, who has been coaching companies and individuals in leaderships skills and tactics for nearly a decade as CEO of Forward Executive Search & Executive Coaching, was a natural person to turn to. And she had plenty to say on the subject. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.

Related: Mets General Manager Jared Porter Was Fired for Sending Inappropriate Texts to a Reporter. How Could the Team Have Avoided This Hiring Disaster?

Putting profits and performance over people

“It’s a real hot potato, because senior management leaders in your organization want the best of the best, especially if they’re proven to create phenomenal results, to create great profits, to create great performance,” Stokes explains about executive attitudes toward hiring. “They will separate the personal side from their professional abilities. And usually that is absolutely fine. But when you’ve got somebody who is known to be harassing a number of women, that’s a power situation, and I don’t think Mickey Callaway had the emotional intelligence to understand just how powerful he was. He just thought he was able to have fun. But the problem is that when you’re at that level, you’re representing your company, and then it gets out of hand when it’s impacting other people’s careers. The senior management team really needed to huddle at some stage maybe a few years ago, because [Callaway]’s got a track record.”

To lose one’s career or not lose one’s career

Stokes doesn’t necessarily think Callaway’s pattern of behavior has to cost him his life’s work. But that comes with caveats. “He needs to understand what the boundaries are,” she recommends. “He needs to understand that when a woman says, “Yes, I would like to see your … whatever … she feels obligated to because she doesn’t want to ruin her career or she wants to get the story or whatever it is, especially with journalists. As far as he’s concerned, he got consent, but then it became harassment. He was not following the cues. You need to have self-awareness. He needed to do some soul searching on what was happening and chose not to. He needs to have a come-to-Jesus moment, which is to understand what is appropriate and learn how to communicate better.

“I’ve come across enough men to know that they are able to evolve as they mature and get older. I don’t think his career has to change. I think he needs to understand that in his powerful position, that power play is a very difficult one for a woman to deal with.”

Upending the male-dominated management model

Stokes is unequivocal that, “If the executive culture is particularly masculine, they need to be more open to hiring more women so that there is greater equity.” And, she adds, “to ensure that there is an understanding of how humans should be interacting. The majority of the time, it does not work unless it comes from the top. With training, people put it into a little box, and then they’ll forget about it, when really it needs to be incorporated within the entire organization — how they behave, how they communicate, how they hire, how they market, how they discuss things. That goes beyond the organization. It impacts how those employees interact with the rest of the world.”

The myth of intentionality

In response to Mets president Alderson saying future vetting has to be more “intentional,” Stokes says, “That’s a Band-Aid solution. Hiring isn’t the issue. It’s nonsense. They’re patching up a blemish in the entire culture.” In her view, the organizations that truly thrive in today’s environment and overcome these blind spots will be ones that “grab the bull by the horns and deal with culture from the inside out and manage all of these different aspects rather than just finger-pointing.”

Of Callaway specifically, she reiterates that, “If this was a known fact by the industry for five years, this isn’t a hiring issue. This is an industry issue, and it isn’t about being intentional on how we vet. It’s intentional on how we need to be in a very influential industry that generates billions of dollars every single year. Boys and children and are growing up and looking at those industries to see how they behave, and if organizations aren’t stepping up right now to look at their entire operating system from a human-behavioral perspective, this is going to happen time and time again. It irks me greatly that an organization will say, ‘We’re going to be more intentional about how we vet.'”

Related: A Step-by-Step Guide to Responding to Allegations of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Women are fed up

“Women are tired of the lip service and not seeing enough leadership reinvention,” Stokes says matter-of-factly. “We’re not in 1960 anymore. Most male-dominated environments are not grabbing the bull by the horns. You can’t just focus on the fashionable item. Last June and July, every organization was panicking because of Black Lives Matter and what was happening with Covid, and everyone was racing towards trying to solve that, and then — poof — all ignored because everybody ticked a box. When a leader says they want to be more intentional in how they vet, that is not a movement. Women will not want to join something if it’s similar to that. Women will look at that in a very skeptical way, that they’re just wallpapering over a crack. If leadership are not reinventing their people systems and having coaching and honest dialogues with their people, they’re not going to attract a diverse range of people. They’re going to be hiring people that will again ignore or turn a blind eye to all of the behaviors that prevent an industry from moving forward in the right way.”

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