Seven Principles of Management I Learned Playing Hockey

26 04 2012

I have spent the better part of my life playing ice hockey — be it on high school teams, a local weekly skate, or some shinny on a pond with friends.

I still play — because I love it, it keeps me physically fit and quick, and because the rink is at once my temple, my gym, my therapy. My mind clears, instincts take over. I focus on only the game. Any work or home stress quickly dissipates. I play each week on Wednesday nights, from 10:45–midnight, and after 75 minutes of hard skating, I am an exhausted puddle of sweat, but I am refreshed; my battery, recharged.

Great lessons in leadership and management can be gleaned from a life in sportsperhaps none more worthwhile than those of John Wooden, the basketball “Wizard of Westwood” and hockey is no different. Here is the crux of what I have learned thus far:

Hard work pays off — The payoff is not always immediate, imminent, or even clear. But good things come of hard work: bounces tend to go your way more often; scoring chances are created; and the numbers, eventually, fall in your favor.
Efficiency, not just energy — Hard work without focus is wasted energy. Play smart, be well-positioned, don’t over-commit. And then skate like hell.
Sloppiness begets sloppiness — Letting mistakes slide creates an environment in which bigger, systemic problems are created as folks work around initial errors. Coaches, captains, and players themselves must hold the whole team accountable for their efforts, and work as a team to ensure better execution.
Communicate — Talk. Especially when you are in the thick of it. You are often your teammates’ eyes and ears — let them know where you are and what’s happening. And when you have a second, let them know how they’re doing.
Lead by example — Growing up in Philadelphia in the early ’70s, my idol was a skinny diabetic kid from Flin Flon, Manitoba, who also happened to be one of the best hockey players on the planet. He was never the most skilled guy, but there was simply no one more determined to win. He led the Flyers to two Stanley Cup championships by outworking every single opponent he faced, and making every single teammate better.
Foster confidence — Keep your team not only motivated, but confident as well. Even misplaced or irrational confidence can — for brief stretches of time — raise the game of a fourth line player to the point where he’s the best guy on the ice.
Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional The injuries I’ve sustained while playing hockey have put my orthopedist’s kids through college. Broken bones, torn ligaments, surgical fixes. And I’ve learned this: Pain is physical, suffering is mental. We are often swamped at work; but we needn’t suffer unduly for it.

All right then. Drop the puck.