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Jim Leyland is an amazing manager.

If you don’t know who Jim Leyland is, let me tell you. He’s the current manager of the Detroit Tigers (who were eliminated from the baseball playoffs over the weekend), and has previously managed the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Florida Marlins. Why is this significant? It’s significant because all three of those teams were terrible before Jim Leyland was brought in to manage. He has taken 3 of the worst teams in baseball (no concurrently, consecutively) and made them legitimate playoff contenders. That’s a pretty amazing feat.

This is not to say that he’s perfect. Looking at his managerial record, he does have losing seasons and his lifetime record is 1588-1585; not exactly a stellar overall career. His one year stint with the Colorado Rockies was less than spectacular. He has a history of taking a team to the playoffs and then managing them into a losing season the following year. He has never played in the Major Leagues, yet he remains a great manager.

So what does this have to do with personal finance? Well, a lot actually. Looking at Jim Leyland’s career as a manager and minor league player, there are a lot of lessons we can apply to our finances:

Focus on your strengths. Leyland spent 7 years as a minor league player and never made it to the Majors. In 1970, he started coaching and since then, has found success. He has proven that it is important to recognize your strengths and put your energy into that. By putting your energy into something that you’re good at, and you’re passionate about, you will be successful. If you’re in debt, find one part of managing your money that you’re good at and work on improving that. Use those strengths to help you find a way to get out of debt. Improve upon those strengths and become an expert and use that expertise to effectively manage your money.

Acknowledge your failures. Leyland walked away from his contract with the Florida Marlins because he wasn’t performing as well as he expected himself to. He did the same thing after his first year with the Rockies ended in a losing record. This was a pretty bold move. Getting out of debt requires an equally bold move. It’s important to acknowledge that something is not right with your finances and having the courage to do something about it. We often don’t want to admit that we can’t handle our finances or our debt but it’s not until we admit that we can’t do it that we can begin to do something about it.

Enjoy your success. Leyland has won numerous awards including Manager of the Year and is the seventh manager to win a pennant in both leagues. This is a huge accomplishment and while I’ve never spoken to Mr. Leyland about it, I’m assuming he’s proud of himself. The same applies to getting out of debt. Paying off debt, no matter how big or small, is hard work. It takes effort, concentration, self-control and discipline. Even paying off a $300 balance is an accomplishment, so make sure that you do something to acknowledge your hard work. Whether it’s crossing the debt off of your list, telling a friend or putting a gold star on a caledar, be proud of your success.

Stay true to who you are. Despite managerial and scouting jobs with a number of teams, Leyland has kept his family rooted in Pittsburgh. He remains a smoker (and apparently smokes during games) despite the ban on smoking in most major league stadiums. While ignoring a smoking ban probably isn’t the classiest move, he makes a point that he’s not going to let anything stop him from something that he needs to do. This principle can be applied to paying off debt. When you’re paying down debt, you are inevitably going to encounter friends or family members who try to derail your plans. They entice you with shopping, restaurants, vacations and gadgets. While it’s OK to indulge once and awhile, you need to remain true to your effort.

Though I draw on inspiration from Jim Leyland, I must confess that as a New York Mets fan, I do root against him (unless the Tigers are playing the Yankees. Then I’m a Tigers fan all the way). However, the lessons learned from his managerial style transcend team loyalties and cross over from the diamond to the wallet.

Are there any unusual places you find inspiration for your finances?

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