pg 22 OpEd Montreal Canadiens Cole

pg 22 OpEd Montreal Canadiens Cole Caufield Getty

Hockey players are famously deferential to their teammates — a trait that businesses can emulate for success.getty images

We can’t say for certain, but for most sports fans, the fall of 2022 may be one of the most exciting times in recent memory. The specter of COVID is largely behind us (notwithstanding omicron variants), as is the hardcore need to socially distance.

It means mega global events (think the FIFA World Cup in Qatar) sitting over the top of the usual smorgasbord of MLB (Aaron Judge homers, dynamic playoffs, World Series), League of Legends (Worlds), Formula One, NFL, NCAA, NASCAR, LPGA, NBA, MLS, NWSL and NHL. Some might go so far as we’re about to see a full-blown saturation of sports content.

Speaking of the NHL and content, we’ve just released a new book called “Business the NHL Way” with the University of Toronto Press and were thrilled to learn SBJ would let us share an excerpt with its readers.

The book is written in the style (somewhat) of Michael Lewis’ famous “Moneyball” and Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” but with some differences. We offer a series of short chapters based on hockey instead of baseball. We sincerely believe hockey warrants this level of attention and that sport industry leaders can learn from our research and personal stories in ways that can serve your career and the organizations that you work for.

The book cover showcases Commissioner Gary Bettman, the individual responsible for navigating the league for the last 30 years — three decades that have seen incredible growth ($5 billion in revenue last year), expansion, technology enhancements, and asset appreciation for the league’s 32 owners.

We touch on much of this in the book and with SBJ’s permission, we provide a portion of our Chapter 2, which details leadership lessons from the NHL and how they can be adapted to other settings (ideally the specific business realities of SBJ’s readers).

pg 22 OpEd OReilly Burton book cover

Adapted excerpt from “Business the NHL Way: Lessons From The Fastest Game On Ice,” by Norm O’Reilly and Rick Burton (Aevo UTP, October 2022):

Yes, Studying the NHL’s Leadership Traits Can Really Help

Like any professional sport, the NHL and its many “actors” are highly visible. The league and its games are a great source of content, learning, and stories that can serve every business regardless of size.

Hockey is a great metaphor. Both as a game and as a business, it is competitive and fast moving and offers powerful stories and illustrative cases that create learning opportunities for other contexts. In its fullness, hockey allows discussion of the following:

Competition: awareness, knowledge, and understanding of your competitors are vital, enabling proactive response planning and action.

Courage: also known as risk in the business context — taking action when reward is possible in the face of potential defeat.

Focus: dedicated attention and practice toward an objective (or set of objectives) without distraction.

Group Dynamics: the ability to emerge as a team rather than as a set of individuals through a balancing of personalities, skills, shared experiences, strengths, and weaknesses of each member of the group.

Leadership: the position or role related to directing a group.

Motivation: interest, drive, passion, dedication, and enthusiasm for the task at hand.

Restraint: being smart and able to not react in the face of an opportunity that is not appropriate to pursue.

Resiliency and Reliability: the dual ability to stay the course and be able to deliver as expected on tasks.

Sacrifice: the willingness to put the good of the group/team ahead of your own.

A Willingness to Sacrifice Self for the Team

A third leadership characteristic that we would like to highlight is a willingness to put the team ahead of oneself. Every business must ask employees to make sacrifices for the good of the organization. It may mean working late or coming in on a weekend. It may mean not getting an annual pay raise when a pandemic has knifed a company’s profitability. It could take the form of working double shifts for someone who can’t (or won’t) report to work.

None of those sacrifices compare to those made in war or a pandemic … or by NHL players during the playoffs (when the hitting is more intense and win-or-go-home pressure ratchets up). Hockey fans acknowledge playoff beards, heightened commitments, and brutal forechecking because the pressure is real. The playoffs and Cup require every active NHL player pledge to figuratively (if not literally) bleed for his teammates, for his club.

Strangely, in our current age, it often seems many employees are unwilling to make sacrifices for the “team.” Is that because they’ve never been made to feel part of a cohesive unit? Sports Physical Therapy CEO Lynn Steenberg frequently tells university students that research consistently suggests the number one intangible that most employees crave is to feel appreciated. Not to get a pay raise or improved working conditions. Rather, they want appreciation for their work. Want to feel like they are “in” on things. Can get sympathetic help when they fall behind. That their sacrifices are appreciated.

Rick Burton is the David B. Falk Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University and COO North America for Australian sports tech firm Playbk Sports. Norm O’Reilly is the dean of the University of Maine’s Graduate School of Business and partner at the T1 Agency in Toronto.

Questions about OPED guidelines or letters to the editor? Email editor Jake Kyler at jkyler@sportsbusinessjournal.com



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