Where there is no leadership, the people will perish!

My last posting I introduced my life long hobby of hockey and my beer league team of the Screaming Eagles.  Since that posting I’ve become a lot more in tune of some potential on ice lessons and been on a pretty awesome point streak.  In the last post I spoke about how our team doesn’t have a formal coach and how we essentially have to hold each other accountable as peers and I spoke about the brilliance and effectiveness of that.  However, two games after that one our team organizer as I’ll call him, John Grobanopoulos (Grobo), not to be mistaken with George Strombolopolous (Strombo) who is another lifelong school mate, missed a game.  We joked prior to the game as we were getting dressed that his presence on the ice probably won’t be missed as we had several of our more talented players in attendance but what took place even before the puck dropped was noticeable and as a result reminded me of some valuable lessons in leadership and organizational behavior.

Right after warm up it was time for the puck drop and one of my team mates yelled out “what are the lines?” and all I heard was silence,  I knew immediately we may be in for a long night.  John although not the formal coach, looks after all the administration and setting of the lines, we were lost right off the bat, nobody seamlessly took over what might be a menial task yet an important one that can set the tone for the game and ultimately be the difference between winning and losing.  After some comical back and forth and mass confusion of who was starting even after we organized the lines we finally dropped the puck.  After we observed the pace and assessed our opponent, it was clear that our speed and talent far exceeded theirs and we should be able to easily defeat them.  However, without Grobo on the bench to make game observations to see who was on and which pairs were clicking, we suffered from a lack of discipline, taking too many penalties and ultimately not moving our feet enough.  Since we had more talent we kept it close and went late into the game holding a one goal advantage yet we let that slip away with only mere seconds left in the game.  This meant overtime which was also Grobo’s responsibility to decide who the best players of the night were and who deserved to play the extra session and ultimately give us the best chance to win.  Well needless to say especially since we were shaken by giving the late game tying goal, confusion and ego prevailed and we entered the overtime period as discombobulated as we had started the game and it took only 30 second for our weaker opponent to finish us off and emerge victorious.

As the screaming eagles retired to the dressing room and did what we do best (yell and drink beer), I sat and reflected and couldn’t help but notice how the lack of at least some organization, guidance and gentle accountability can be fatal to any team or organization.  It’s not always about being a charismatic game changing vocal leader who can quote all of Jack Welch’s books, sometimes all that is needed is someone who can keep order and eliminate confusion within an organization.  Upon John’s return when he asked how we lost to such a weaker opponent everybody chimed in with some excuses but I paid John a compliment and said we really missed him, and not necessarily his fierce back checking (he will resent that sarcastic comment) but his leadership.  Like the humble effective business and team leader that he is, he shrugged it off and taught me another lesson when he comically said “The key to leading or motivating a bunch of type A personalities is simply to out yell them”.  Can’t say I ever thought about that but at The Wish Group I lead several Presidents and a management team of over 20 type A’s and come to think of it I do yell a lot.  It’s an old biblical saying yet it’s true, without leadership regardless of its form a group or organization striving to achieve a task will perish or at least not be merely as effective as it can be.  I encourage each of you to reflect on times where nobody takes leadership of a situation and observe what occurs, it may be enlightening, and maybe that will motivate you to step up and take the leadership, because often leadership isn’t given, it’s taken.

The Holy Grail of Leadership

Like most Canadian boys, I grew up playing hockey and like most of them, dreamed of one day playing in the NHL. Needless to say, I was never quite good enough to play professionally, but over the past few years after determining that I needed to de-stress and have some male bonding time, I decided to get back to playing in a beer league with some old friends. Besides working up a good sweat, I find it therapeutic at the end of a hectic work week to kick back and relax with the guys and have a few pops after the game. What I think I get most out of it though are the same things I took from the game growing up, which is how important discipline, teamwork, passion and fun are in life and in business. The early morning practices, trying your hardest, working together as a group and the camaraderie that comes with it is truly fulfilling, especially seeing the pride in my father’s eyes after I had a good game, not to mention the dollar he gave me for each goal!

Well now that I’m older, I still enjoy the game, in some ways even more than I used to as a kid, no pressure, it’s truly just fun now. However I’m blessed to be on a team called the Screaming Eagles and we are quite the passionate bunch of thirty and forty something’s. Although we aren’t playing for money, the Stanley Cup, or a Gold Medal for our country, you would never know it by our passion and our strong will to win. Something happened in a recent game that really made me reflect on things. It was after the first period and as our goalie George Benak was changing sides and came over to the bench for some water, out of the blue he yelled at me to move my feet out there and skate insinuating that I was standing around. Well, you can probably guess my reaction, probably no different than any of my employees who I’ve called out before, I was pissed! However, that being said, deep down, or not that deep down, I knew he was right. In fact I was just thinking to myself that my lack of intensity on the back check probably caused a goal, but what upset me was that Benak noticed! So my inner voice started off with the usual “who the heck does he think he is?” and “well he should worry about himself and stop letting in soft goals!”.

As we started the second period I had a decision to make, I could mail it in and chalk it up to a bad game and let my ego win, or I could prove Benak and myself wrong and turn things around. So I really dug deep and skated my butt off and it made a difference. Afterwards in the dressing room, as Benak walked in he yelled out in front of everyone, “Hey Frank, hell of a game out there!”. I couldn’t believe the feeling that came over me, I was beaming and smiling from ear to ear just like I was eight years old again and my father was walking into the dressing room and complimented me on my play. At first I couldn’t believe that I was reacting this way, I mean Benak’s a great guy but I’m the all-powerful CEO of many businesses, I’m the one who usually inspires and motivates people to action, how had I fallen for such a simple compliment? Well, it reminded me that holding people accountable is the right thing to do for them and the team, and it reminded me that praise ALWAYS works.

A few days later in our company wide sales meeting, I told this story, and what we all took from the story that I hadn’t thought about was the power of peer to peer accountability. Unlike professional or even organized youth hockey, there are no coaches on our team, we have to self govern in a way while we are in the play, we don’t have much perspective besides when we are on the bench in-between shifts.  Accountability is often lacking in most companies, it’s what separates good performing businesses from poor ones, and in most cases even when it’s present it comes from management. Don’t get me wrong it needs to be there from management, but in my experience, the exceptional companies always have peer to peer accountability in them. It’s when a colleague calls you out to do your best, or you want to excel in your job not only for yourself but because you don’t want to let the team down and you’re looking for their respect. This peer to peer accountability is what every team should be striving to achieve, and when as a leader you achieve this within your team, you’ve achieved what has been termed, the Holy Grail of Leadership.