What Being a Lifelong Hockey Player Taught Me About Running a Business
I've learned lessons as a hockey player that help me as an executive.
In business, it's priceless to have something that inspires you, or an experience or a passion that drives you. For me, it's hockey.
I've been playing hockey competitively for over 25 years — with wins in league championships, scoring titles, and amateur tournaments. I even had the chance to skate with Team USA right before the 1992 Olympics at Long Island's Nassau Coliseum, where I won the end-of-session shootout.
When people ask me why I continue to play given my demanding work responsibilities, the answer is easy: I love the competitive nature of the game, and the physical and mental challenges it offers me.
Five key areas come to mind where I've found that the teachings of hockey can provide powerful insights that can help all of us in the world of business.
1. Innovate and take risks
Wayne Gretzky is famous for the quote, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
Every time you pass up a golden opportunity to shoot at the goal, you guarantee it will not go in.
In business, it's never a bad time to innovate, which involves taking risks. A company culture that's fueled by smart risk-taking is a company that can use change to thrive.
Today's actions bring tomorrow's successes. There will be missed shots and failures along the way, but learn from them and don't become gun-shy.
Hesitation in hockey is a killer. Trust your gut, take the open look and take your shot.
2. Build a multi-talented team
Teams that can play two-way hockey, "a 200-foot game," are those that are positioned for the most success and growth. You need a blend of scorers and grinders, defensive players and playmakers.
The same is true when you are building your "roster" in the business world.
While every team needs a high-scoring sales leader and sales team, the sales team is only as successful as the playmakers in marketing, as they make sure that the commitments made by the sales team can be delivered.
Invest in your team wisely, but don't forget about the playmakers who are leading the charge, and the grinders who are in the trenches doing what they need to do.
3. Anticipate where the market is going
Move where the puck is going, not where it has been.
Hockey is a grueling, demanding sport in which time and space are always at a premium. You want to own as much time with the puck as you can, and having the space to operate allows for the best chances to score.
In business, the use of analytics, research on market conditions and the predictions of your team and vendors together help you know where the puck is going to be.
If you can get to that space first, you can beat your competition before they have a chance to react. In hockey, hustle on the puck is a key to being successful.
The same concept applies to business — being hungry for a sale and being clear in your value proposition are equally important.
4. Pivot on the fly
In hockey and business, agility and adaptability are necessary skills as they're often needed to cut in and out of tight spots, to turn on a dime, to make quick decisions and to pivot in order to make the best play possible for the team, all while the game continues to move along at an even faster speed. Making a line change too late can result in disaster.
When running your business, you need to make changes on the fly when something you originally planned is not working.
What are sometimes called "second-order capabilities" are those which allow managers and businesses to rapidly read signals and then adapt, refine and re-deploy or just move on to "plan B" or "plan C" as deftly as possible, again and again.
5. Draw from the power of teamwork
In hockey, possessing superior team chemistry and coordination can overcome superior skill. Throughout the history of the game, teams that have stayed together and learned how the sum of the parts is greater than the individual pieces are the teams that have won multiple championships.
In business, you need constant teamwork where systems and people are consistently communicating effectively.
As a leader, you need to ensure that your people and systems are effectively communicating to give your business the best chance to be successful.
Having a team that feels engaged and accountable for the wins and losses of the organization will bring traction to your business.
Pay attention to both individual and collaborative values, purpose, targets and metrics.
With a nod to Gretzky, the core of hockey or success in business is open ice. Find that open ice.
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