You hear it all the time: lessons or advice from successful sports coaches can be applied to business leadership. I think you could turn that the other way around, and just as well say that lessons or advice from successful CEOs can be applied to sports leadership.
Anyway, I was reminded of this by a column in the Chicago Tribune about the Chicago Blackhawk’s head coach, Joel Quenneville. The Blackhawks, in case you don’t follow hockey, were the winners of the Stanley Cup in 2010, and just beat the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night in the Stanley Cup Final opener. In the column, Phil Rosenthal wrote that Quenneville—who previously was a head coach in St. Louis and Denver and spent 13 seasons playing for five NHL clubs before that—is enthusiastic and tireless, and he makes it clear he expects the same from players. Additionally, he’s an effective, judicious communicator. Not everyone has to know everything, but he understands it’s important everyone believes they know enough.
“I don’t think I’m great at giving motivational speeches but there are certain ways that we expect our team to play, knowing that we want to be the hardest-working team in the league,” Quenneville says. “The top players deliver this message better than anyone else, and usually those are your leaders too. When your top players aren’t your hardest workers, it’s a little more challenging.”
Blackhawk Marian Hossa says in the column that Quenneville is a “players’ coach. He’s easygoing, but also demanding.” Hossa adds that, there aren’t many of that type of coach.
“Players want to play for him,” Hossa says.
When Quenneville was an 18-year-old defenseman for the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League, Wayne Maxner, longtime Spitfires coach never had to worry when Joel was on the ice, he recalled in a Chicago Tribune column earlier in the week.
“I knew he was going places. I made him captain because of his leadership qualities, and he never disappointed me,” Maxner said in the column by David Haugh.
What I found most interesting, however, was that after Quenneville left his hometown of Windsor for the AHL and an eventual 803-game NHL career, the Spitfires made an in-season trade in 1978 for a feisty, no-nonsense defenseman who reminded Maxner of Quenneville. The next season, Maxner named that player, Claude Julien, team captain because he was the same type of player as Quenneville. Both players weren’t afraid to work hard and lead, he recalls.
“I would say they are almost identical as coaches and people,” Maxner says in the Tribune column.
Fast forward to today, and Claude Julien is coach of the Boston Bruins. The Bruins, by the way, also happened to win the Stanley Cup in 2011. Like Quenneville, Julien is known for preaching enthusiasm and hard work, along with accountability and consistency.
There obviously is a great deal more to winning sports championships, or being successful in business, than a coach’s or CEO’s attitude. However, at some fundamental level, that attitude does trickle down, and to a certain extent, an organization can be modeled after his or her mindset.
What I’d like to know though, is how much impact you think that executive leadership mindset has on an organization’s performance? Do you work, or have you worked somewhere, where hard work, enthusiasm, accountability and consistency were preached? If so, what effect did it have on employees and organization performance?