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  • James Lord

Don't signal weakness to your team - Keep them focused on winning

I recently had the opportunity to join a leadership discussion with Brendan Shanahan, President of the Toronto Maple Leafs NHL hockey team.  For those who don’t follow hockey, the Maple Leafs are extremely close to locking down their spot in the playoffs for the 2023-2024 season.  One of the guests asked him about the role he plays in terms of the day to day coaching decisions made by his coaching staff.  As one might expect, Brendan focused on the importance of surrounding yourself with very talented people.  He shared how hard he worked to hire the best communications team, coaching staff, and other key roles for his organization.  He also shared how, as a leader, you have to give people room to lead.  You offer input, but you trust in their decisions as you’ve delegated power to them to make. 


That said, during one specific example he shared about the coaches debating whether they should give the players an extra day off before a big game, Brendan didn’t make the decision for them.  Instead, he said, “Whatever you decide, do not give the players the idea that they should be tired this late in the season and that they should need a day off to rest.”  Brendan knew that if you put even a small hint of doubt into the minds of the players, it could change the whole trajectory of their game.  Instead, the day off could be viewed as a “gift” for playing so well, but not as a “much needed day of rest.”


We’ve all heard stories of “mind over matter”, but it was very interesting to hear that even at the professional NHL level, leadership is working hard to keep the hearts and minds of the players focused on one thing – winning. 


You would never hear an emergency room doctor say to a patient, “Wow, that looks really bad!”  Even during an emergency, doctors know how to stay calm and cool – they assure their patient that everything will be okay, and they distract their mind by asking questions about friends, family, pets, and so on. 


So the next time you’re leading a high performing team through a challenging quest, make sure you’re not the one signaling signs of fear or concern into the hearts & minds of your team.  Your job is to protect the team from those outside distractions so they can focus on winning. 

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