Don’t Forget Your Skates – Leadership Lessons from NHL Captains

Apr 14, 2019 | Leadership

Spring is upon us, and that can only mean one thing: the NHL Playoffs are around the corner! With nostalgic commercials airing more frequently, playoff beards growing in, and fans starting to wear their ‘lucky’ team apparel, we at MacPhie can’t wait for the games to begin.

But, there’s more to playoff season than national pride and fancy puck work; the NHL and its players actually offer some pretty valuable lessons about effective leadership. More than any other sport, the game of hockey has a culture focused on teamwork, and every team needs a strong leader. This has created positions of leadership for some exceptional individuals, who are able to get the most out their groups through their behaviour and interactions with their teams. Here are our thoughts on some of the most acclaimed captains of the NHL, and the traits that make them effective leaders.

Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals – General in the Trenches

Ovechkin is not only one of the most skilled players – and highest scorers – in the NHL; he is a team captain whose style of play defies conventions and expectations. In recent years, there has been a trend towards high-end players in the league only focusing on the offensive aspects of the game, leaving the less glamourous defensive responsibilities to the lower-tier players. Ovechkin’s approach shatters this notion: he’s involved in both of these aspects of the game and executes every detail with equal intensity. This style of play has united and inspired the Washington Capitals and was a key contributing factor to their Stanley Cup victory last spring.

So, what’s the takeaway for business leaders from Ovechkin’s style of governance? Striking a balance between developing your team’s strategy as well as being there to help them execute can have hugely beneficial results for your organization. By getting involved in the day-to-day activities, you can begin to remove the separation between you and your team, which will inspire and energize everyone.

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins – The Silent Leader

The pride of Cole Harbour is known for his 3 Stanley Cups, 2 Olympic Gold Medals and 3 other Gold Medals at international events, but this youngest captain is NHL history isn’t exactly famous for having a dominating, “alpha-leader” type personality. So, how did Sid the Kid lead his teams to such success?  

When people think of a “captain,” there’s a tendency to imagine someone who’s loud and imposing. Anyone familiar with Crosby and his personality knows that this isn’t who he is. Although Crosby is not known to be a loud communicator, he is a textbook example of an effective communicator. Powerful leaders know that they don’t need to be heard at all times – there’s a time to talk and a time to listen, and Crosby embodies this principle perfectly.

Managers can apply Crosby’s leadership technique by emphasising two-way communication within their teams. By listening more, you will be able to better understand the state of your team, and thus be able to lead them more effectively.

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks – Captain Serious

In a league filled with big personalities and athletes who like to joke around, it may be surprising that one of the NHL’s most effective captains is one who rarely cracks a smile, but Toews’ leadership abilities are undeniable. With 3 Stanley Cup victories under his belt before he turned 30, Toews gained the nickname “Captain Serious” based on his strict behaviour on and off the ice.

Toews’ play is almost military-like; he makes the right plays in the right areas of the game, at the right times, and his teammates take notice. This consistency in model behaviour can be used as a lesson for effective leadership. There comes a point in leadership when words only do so much – for a message to truly be reinforced, a leader must demonstrate the desired behaviour themselves to inspire their team. Leading by example demonstrates full commitment to the cause, sets the standard for behaviour, and ultimately leads to improved performance by your team.

By: George Novachis




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