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3-D Cover for Big Leadership Ideas: From the Locker Room to the Boardroom

Chapter 1

Where We're Going - What You'll Learn

A trip to the local pond with Aunt Ruth and Uncle Gene changed my life. I was barely three years old.

The next year I stood mesmerized, watching the older boys send a hockey puck flying down their makeshift rink. I could barely contain myself, inching toward the ice, badly wanting to join in the fun. But I lacked a hockey stick and shin pads...and besides that, I was only four.

Finally, on my sixth Christmas, the needed equipment appeared under our tree and that winter I played in my first hockey game. Stick in hand, I tentatively skated across the ice and, as it turned out, my first encounter with ice hockey was everything I had imagined...exciting, fast-paced, frustrating, challenging...but, at the same time, lots of fun.

At the end of that first game, one of the older boys skated by and stopped just long enough to say, "Hey! You’re not bad for a little kid." That one comment fueled my confidence for the next game and the next.

Like most of the younger kids, I was in awe of the older players...one in particular whose nickname was "Soupie," and who was, without a doubt, the best player on the pond.

Soupie could stickhandle through, around and between every player on the opposing team. He became my role model. Every chance I got, I practiced stickhandling. Seeing my determination, my father bought a 4 x 6 sheet of plywood that I placed on the ground and, even during the hottest months of summer, I practiced stickhandling morning, noon and night.

I began playing organized hockey – on a team and in a rink – when I was 12. By the time I entered Canton High School, I had become a pretty good player and made the varsity hockey team as a freshman, which was unusual. In my junior year, I was elected co-captain...my first opportunity to be a team leader.

However, as most first-time leaders, I failed miserably...mainly because I was too concerned with my own needs, including wanting my teammates to like me. Looking back, I failed, specifically, because:

  • I didn’t confront players who violated team rules.
  • I didn’t encourage players who were frustrated.
  • I didn’t always set a good example.
  • I missed opportunities to recognize and congratulate players who were playing well.

About this same time, I began wondering why some teams overachieved while others were always in the cellar. It seemed certain teams in our league were always in first or second place...always the teams to beat.

In all my teen-aged wisdom, I concluded it was the coaching, so I began looking at what top coaches did to bring out the best in their teams and individual players.

My passion for the sport of ice hockey led to my selection to the league’s All-Star Team and after high school, I attended New Preparatory School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. New Prep was noted for its outstanding hockey program, so it recruited, mainly, all-star players from the high school leagues – and their number one focus was playing Division I hockey.

Owen Hughes, the New Prep hockey coach was outstanding – affirming and inspirational as he built great teams, year after year. As I was to learn, Coach Hughes simply established a few principles his players believed in and followed. He brought out the best of every player. In my case, he worked with me, one-on-one after practice to improve my shooting.

After playing for New Prep, I received three hockey scholarship offers. I chose Ohio University.

For three years, I played on the OU varsity team, led by a coach who was a nice guy but a poor leader...mainly because he lacked leadership skills. However, he taught me (through his example) about what not to do if I wanted to lead winning teams.

OU attracted a lot of talented players, but we underperformed. Why? Because our coach lacked vision, never described what he thought was possible for us to accomplish and never verbalized what he expected of us, as individuals or as a team.

Ironically, Ohio University became a fertile training ground for me in the area of leadership, not at the hockey rink but while I was sitting in Dr. Paul Hersey’s class on "Managing Organizational Behavior." Looking back, I can say without exception, his classes were the most outstanding of my entire college career.

At that time Professor Hersey had played a major role in the development and evolution of the "Situational Leadership" model. In class, he provided an inspiring blend of theory and application and his passion pushed me to learn more about management and leadership.

After graduation, I knew my future wasn’t in the NHL. I worked for a couple of years in sales and traveled Europe one summer. At age 27, I was offered – and accepted – the position of Varsity Hockey Coach at American International College.

As coach, I became responsible for recruiting, selecting and training 22 hockey players. Almost overnight, I was responsible for leading a group of young men and building an effective team.

The four years I coached the American International team was a great experience. Aside from the opportunity to move to the next level in the sport of ice hockey, coaching provided an early foundation for the further development of my leadership insights and theories.

These lessons in leadership and those that came after had a big impact on me. Now, 30 years later, my interest in leadership continues. In the interim, I have observed and come to know many successful leaders in a variety of fields including education, business, religion and politics.

I’ve also conducted numerous seminars and workshops on leadership, helping more than 10,000 managers become more effective in their leadership roles...and here’s what I’ve learned...so far:

  • Leaders believe most people and organizations are capable of achieving much more than they currently are...or even think they can.
  • Leaders believe – in every organization – there are hidden talents, untapped resources and people eager to make a bigger impact than they already are.
  • Leaders believe people will rise to the occasion if they understand the challenge and know what’s in it for them.

I’ve also learned most successful leaders have four very profound abilities:

  1. They See What Is
    Good leaders face reality. They ask questions, make observations and analyze data to get a clear sense of the current situation. Often times it’s not as clear cut as it is a matter of connecting the dots and seeing the patterns of behavior.
  2. They Discover What’s Possible
    True leaders search for – and discover – new ideas and new possibilities. They look beyond existing structures and scenery to the landscape of the possible. They develop a vision, a clear picture in their minds, of what the individual, team or organization can become.
  3. They Describe What’s Possible
    Effective leaders describe their vision in a way that excites and energizes their people. They communicate their message in a clear, concise and convincing manner. They engage others, transforming their personal dreams into a shared vision.
  4. They Pursue What’s Possible
    Innovative leaders take action. They execute! They develop and implement a plan to achieve their vision. They involve others, knowing that no vision worthy of being executed can be executed alone.

These four steps form the "Possibilities Model," a model for effective leadership developed from lessons learned on the ice during my experience as a collegiate hockey coach.

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