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Theo Epstein’s Perfect Response to the World’s Greatest Leaders List

March 23, 2017, 9:44 PM UTC
2016 World Series  - Cleveland Indians v. Chicago Cubs: Game Three
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 28: Chicago Cubs general manager Theo Epstein is seen on field before Game 3 of the 2016 World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on Friday, October 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Rob Tringali—MLB Photos via Getty Images

Theo Epstein has done a lot of winning in his career. After ending two of Major League Baseball’s all-time longest World Series droughts, most recently with the Chicago Cubs, Epstein is a world class curse-breaker who knows what it’s like to finish on top.

Maybe that’s why it was so easy for Epstein to shrug off his first-place finish on Fortune‘s latest World’s Greatest Leaders list. Epstein, currently the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, responded to his placement on the list with a selflessness that epitomizes one of the exact traits that makes a leader great.

Responding to ESPN’s Buster Olney following the release of the 2017 World’s Greatest Leaders list, Epstein fired off a lengthy text message that deftly deflected our praise while touting the Cubs’ on-field heroes. Epstein’s full response, according to ESPN: “Um, I can’t even get my dog to stop peeing in the house. That is ridiculous. The whole thing is patently ridiculous. It’s baseball—a pastime involving a lot of chance. If [Cubs All-Star Ben] Zobrist’s ball is three inches farther off the line, I’m on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. And I’m not even the best leader in our organization; our players are.”


Epstein swatted away any honor that might overshadow the accomplishments of the organization as a whole, or lift him above the Cubs’ players (although, of course, he’s the guy who assembled those players on the same roster). Deflecting praise aimed at yourself in order to give credit to those around you is exactly the sort of thing great leaders do (well, that and masterminding the complete turnaround of an entire MLB franchise en route to winning the club’s first World Series in 108 years).

From Boston to Chicago, Epstein has proven his mettle at finding the perfect mix of talent and personalities to surround himself with in order to energize organizations once thought of as “cursed.” And, that’s true whether or not Epstein wants to take the credit.

Click here for more on how Epstein transformed the Cubs into World Series champions.

This article is part of the 2017 World’s 50 Greatest Leaders list, our annual directory of world-changing leaders in business, government, philanthropy and beyond. Click here to see the entire package.