It turns out that Major League Baseball executives and Air Force leadership have more in common than you might think.
That was the most prominent theme coming out of Tuesday’s second-annual Nats on Base: Leadership Exchange event at Nationals Park, which involved the Washington Nationals’ higher-ups and Air Force personnel exploring the similarities and differences between running an MLB franchise and being a military commander.
The event was a part of the 2019 Air Force District of Washington’s Squadron Command and Spouse Orientation Course, where 40 new commanders and their spouses discussed leadership techniques with representatives from other industries, including the Nationals and Washington Redskins.
“The intent of this is to give future commanders a sense of how other people in similar lines of work lead,” said Maj. Gen. Jake Jacobson, commander of the Air Force District of Washington. “We’ve designed this whole course from beginning to end to bring in external viewpoints to give them another perspective on how to deal with similar problems.”
To kick off the panel, the Nationals brought out Mark Lerner, the team’s principal owner, and Mike Rizzo, the team’s general manager and president of baseball operations, to give opening remarks.
After they left, the conversation continued between Ted Towne, the Nationals’ vice president of finance; Wendy Bailey, senior director of content creation; Mark Scialabba, director of player development; Jacqueline Coleman, senior vice president of broadcasting and game presentation; Jennifer Giglio, vice president of communications; and Gregory McCarthy, senior vice president of community engagement.
Topics from the panel included delegating tasks to subordinates, how to make superstars and average players alike feel equally valued, targeting messages to ensure they sink in with all employees, maintaining a work-life balance and more.
“It’s good for us because our executives get to hear a different perspective on how the military tackles problems, and we’re delighted to share with the military how we tackle problems,” McCarthy said. “And we find there’s some great similarities and some differences.”
That sentiment was shared by some of the Air Force folks who attended the panel, including Lt. Col. Katherine Geranis, who is going to be the 11th logistics readiness squadron commander at Andrews Air Force Base.
“It’s amazing because most of those similarities stem from treating members like they’re a family rather than they’re just an employee,” she said. “The way that they handle things with the Redskins and the Washington Nationals is very much the family mentality we have and the way we treat our airmen.”
She said she was impressed by how much the Nationals care about and do for the military.
Col. Don Schofield, the conductor of the U.S. Air Force Band, said he also saw the parallels between the Nationals executives’ leadership experiences and his own in the military.
“They talked many times about chain of command,” he said. “It sounded like a very organized, set structure that really relies on trust and leadership.”
He said he was also thrilled as a band leader to hear somebody practicing the National Anthem outside the event, which reminded him of the inherent patriotism that both the military and baseball also share.
“It’s the brand image of America,” Schofield said. “And I’m really proud to be associated with both the Air Force and this community partnership with the Washington Nationals.”
Jacobson said that in addition to talks with folks from the Nationals and Redskins, the course participants have also heard from someone with the National War College about “big-picture geopolitics” and DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association.
He also said that the group spent some time in Gettysburg, Pa., on Thursday “trying to see leadership from days gone by.”
McCarthy talked about what the Nationals executives will hopefully take from their interactions with these new Air Force commanders, especially understanding the variety of jobs they do as opposed to just flying planes.
“[F]or our folks to see that the Air Force is comprised of a lot of different missions, a lot of different leaders, and together they make everything happen, that’s good for us,” he said.
On the flip side, Jacobson called the Nationals “great teammates” with the Air Force and said he believed the folks in attendance Tuesday got a lot out of the experience.
“It’s about developing leaders to make these young airmen who signed up to do great things in our service even better,” he said. “And that’s what they heard today: Take care of the talent and let them do good things.”