What makes a great leader?
Many hockey fans in British Columbia would consider Trevor Linden an expert on this subject.
On Oct. 18, Captain Canuck shared his insight into leadership, community and how the game of hockey turned him into a great leader on and off the ice with a large crowd at Georges P. Vanier Secondary School.
Linden spoke about Building Leaders. Building Community during a presentation sponsored by First Insurance and Westview Agencies before dropping the puck at the Glacier Kings’ alumni game that night.
Funny and engaging, Linden shared stories of his 20 years in the NHL, joked about wearing a Maple Leaf jersey when he was four years old because he didn’t know any better and it very well may have been the only choice in his small town of Medicine Hat, and shared his thoughts about leadership and goal-setting.
Linden told the crowd he often gets asked what has changed in the NHL in the past 20 years, and he pointed out the differences he noticed from his first season in 1988 and his last season in 2008.
“My last season in Vancouver, we had a head medical trainer, a physical therapist, massage therapist, chiropractor, orthopedic surgeon, we had four equipment trainers,” he said. “In 1988, we had a single medical trainer and a single equipment guy. Basically, if you needed something, you got it yourself.
“My last season in 2008, we’d have a fully catered post-game meal at the end of the game in our 1,000-square-foot players’ lounge. The meal was specially prepared to include carbohydrates, antioxidants and of course electrolytes.
“Back in 1988, what did they do? Well, they rolled out a cart of Molson Canadian. And for those committed athletes, of course you opted for the Coors Light.”
Linden believes competition is the reason the game has changed so much in the past 20 years or so.
“If you think about it, competition rules everything we do in life, certainly in sport, that’s easy, but also in business as well,” he said. “Things change because competition forces them to change.”
Linden went into the development business after retiring from hockey and has now launched Club 16 – Trevor Linden Fitness, and he says one thing he didn’t realize he missed so much about being an NHL player was the goal-setting that professional sports require.
“My first September was particularly difficult,” he said. “From the time I was five years old, I had one goal, and that was to play hockey.”
For someone who was so focused on goal-setting, one goal Linden never set was to be a leader, he told the crowd.
“I was put in a position of leadership at a very young age,” he said. “I became the captain of the Canucks at 21. This came with some really heavy responsibilities. When someone shows belief in you, they empower you, and I think, as a leader, you have to take confidence in that.”
For people who do set out to be leaders – or find themselves in a leadership position – Linden’s advice was to make sure your team knows its direction.
“The best coaches I played for — the Pat Quinns, the Marc Crawfords, the Alain Vigneaults — they gave us players a roadmap and how to get there, what small steps we needed to take to make sure we got to where we needed to be and in turn gave us the best chance of winning,” he said.
“It’s no different on the teams you’re part of. Map out all the details for your team, and let them know your goal. Great coaches tell you exactly what you want to accomplish in the first five minutes of the first period, and that’s exactly how you should approach your business.”
Leadership means different things to different people, and there is no one way to lead, Linden explained.
Linden considers Steve Yzerman a great leader, and he says much of that is because Yzerman could walk into a dressing room and ask the coach what he needed him to do — and then go do it.
“Steve was one of these guys who was selfless and willing to do whatever it took,” said Linden. “Even now, when I look at the corporate structure of our fitness business, if you’re not willing to do it yourself, you shouldn’t be asking anybody else to, and that’s the type of mentality that I think is so important in the life we lead and the business we do.”
One thing Yzerman has in common with other leaders Linden admires like Vigneault and Crawford is the ability to create culture and to go in and change the way things are done.
Creating a culture includes creating expectations and having the same rules for each member of your team, as well as encouraging feedback and building a strong leadership team around you, according to Linden.
Leadership also means having the strength to make difficult decisions.
“The bottom line in leadership is being in a leadership position is sometimes lonely and at some times very difficult, and you’re going to make decisions that are unpopular — that’s a fact,” said Linden, who served as president of the National Hockey League Players’ Association for eight years.
“You can’t make everyone happy, but displaying the courage to do what’s right for the best interest of the greater group always garners respect. You have to trust your judgment, and you’ve got to believe in yourself, just like Pat Quinn did back in 1991 when he named me captain of the Vancouver Canucks.
“Someone ultimately has put you in a position of leadership or perhaps will in the near future, and that should give you confidence to believe in yourself and trust yourself and do what’s right.”
Lindsay Chung, a former reporter for the Comox Valley Record, is the editor of the Ladysmith Chronicle.