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Leadership lessons learned from hockey

As the president of a Toastmasters Club, I am often asked to present a board of directors. I spent many years as a hockey mom. My oldest son started playing hockey at 6 years old, followed by my daughter at 5 years old and my youngest son at 5 years old. My middle daughter chose figure skating. There was plenty of time to think as I waited for the children to get dressed or undressed and I thought about some of the leadership lessons we can learn from this great winter sport. First of all, when you think of hockey, you think of a team. The Sens, the Leafs, the Habs, the Rangers, the Flyers, etc. You may also think of some particular players that stand out for their specific skills, but these are some of the lessons I learned while watching hockey.

Lesson 1: Every person matters.

Each team has a lot of members, but there are only 6 members on the ice at a time: 3 forwards, 2 defenders, and a goalie. The other members are on the bench waiting their turn. When a player is on the ice giving it his all for 2-3 minutes, he needs to get off for at least as long so he can gather the strength to do it again. It’s important to not only have the main line, but also reserve members for when the front line needs a break.

Lesson 2: Every team needs a leader and that’s why every team has a captain.

The captain can be any of those 6 players and can be on or off the ice at any time, but the captain will be the one you hear cheering on the other players, patting them on the back when they do well, and offering words of encouragement at case they are wrong.

Lesson 3: The leader leads by example

A captain must be prepared to take the initiative, guide and direct his teammates, demonstrate skill with his actions, stand up for his teammates, and take responsibility when things go wrong.

The captain must pay attention to the other members of the team, noting who is doing well and who is not where they should be. The captain will either speak directly to the player or pass the information on to the coach. The captain knows when someone is having a bad day and could use a little more support or when he is having a good day and wants some recognition.

Lesson 4: The leader works harder than the rest of the team

When it’s time to train, the coach looks to the captain to set the pace, get down to work and encourage the rest of the team to do the same. The captain has to be in better shape than the others to set an example, so he has to train harder and smarter.

Lesson 5: The leader must delegate

During the game it is important to put the best players on the ice for the current situation. For example, if the play is at the home end and the other team is winning, it is important to have a strong defensive line so that no more goals come in. If the play is on the other end and the team needs a goal, it’s important to have the best forwards on the ice, a line that “clicks” and plays well together for a chance at a goal. It’s important to know if someone is having a bad day or a good day and play accordingly.

Lesson 6: The leader must make difficult decisions

Sometimes there are players who like to be the “stars” of the game. They grab the puck and run across the ice to score a goal. The fans may cheer, but in the locker room there is no joy for this lone hero and it is up to the captain to explain to that player that he is part of a team and that it is necessary to work together so that everyone has the opportunity to shine. If the player keeps “going it alone”, it is possible that he will find out that he is, in fact, going it alone, as the rest of the team will withdraw from them. Sometimes the player interprets this as jealousy, but it can actually be disgust that the player simply doesn’t listen or support others.

Lesson 7: No one can “go it alone”, the leader needs a team to support him

It is always important to have backup players. No team can play well if it only has its minimum number of players on the ice for the entire game. Everyone needs some time off to rest and recuperate, to gather strength to keep going. If they have to play the whole game, they get exhausted and lose the ability to play well and may even lose the initiative to play.

You can see how easily these lessons relate to Toastmasters. It is important to have a leader, the president, but the president is not the team. The Executive and all other members are the team and the Executive members are simply the front line. It is important that all members are present and willing to take over some of the roles so that the other “players” can rest, recuperate, and prepare to continue.

It is important in Toastmasters and in hockey that everyone take their “turn on the ice” to win the game.

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