Hockey legend Mark Messier taught us some great leadership lessons on May 10, 2011, in Bratislava, Slovakia. The guest speaker at that Orange Biznis meeting was the much revered Canadian Ice Hockey legend Mark Messier, who is now retired. Mark had come to share with us some of his best tips with regard to team management and leadership inspired by the strong moments in his rich and long career. This business meeting had taken place the morning after we had witnessed the splendid victory of the Ice Hockey team of the Czech Republic, at the Orange arena in Bratislava
Hockey legend Mark Messier’s leadership lessons
A living legend
It’s not everyday you come across a living legend, and even though I’m rather new to Hockey, I could well sense that we were experiencing a very special moment when Mark Messier came to talk to us about leadership and management at an Orange Business Meeting organised by our Orange representatives based in Bratislava, the Capital town of Slovakia in central Europe.
Mark played hockey for 26 years and he retired only six years ago. He played in Edmonton, Canada for 12 years and then joined the New York Rangers with whom he won the Stanley cup in just three years.
He is credited for the amazing turnaround of the New York City team, despite incredible media pressure.
I have taken extensive notes during that meeting, so here are my takeaways from Mark’s presentation. An impressive and extensive biography of Mark is made available online on Wikipedia.
The wolf inside you
Mark opened his presentation with an old Cherokee quote: “there are two wolves inside you” he said, “one good and one bad; guess who wins? The one you feed!”.
The real challenge is how to convey a “positive and energetic attitude”; something he understood when talking with his uncle Victor Messier “some sort of Guru and philosopher”, in a “Buddhist kind of way” according to his own words.
Victor showed him the pictures of one Alex Grey, an artist interested in anatomy whose paintings were trying to make personal energy visible in 7 foot-high paintings.
Mark described this as a defining moment. Although he admits that this kind of revelation could happen in various ways according to who you are and how you feel. What is important is to understand “how you can capture the energy in order to show a positive attitude which can lead you to success”.
Mark gave us an illustration of that phenomenon in sport. There is ‘the zone’, he said. “In sport, you have special days on which you are able “to get into the zone”, a state in which nothing else happening in your life is distracting you, he added. When “in the zone”, nothing trivial is getting in the way in order to distract you from relaxing and performing better.
Motivation versus inspiration
But this isn’t all. Real leaders know how to inspire and not just motivate. Motivators aren’t sharing any visions, he said, they are merely pushing people. Motivating your team members will get them to do the work because they have to, but they will not feel inspired. Motivation is needed, but it won’t last for long. Mark quoted Bill Walton’s account of what he went through with his basketball coach: “we never talked about basketball, we talked about life”. This is what makes it possible for “the creation of a culture that builds pride and creative vision”.
Walking the talk
In order to create this culture, one must “celebrate the small things, trust one’s teams members and … walk the talk” Mark added. Good coaches will galvanise the team through the empowerment of the team leader, Mark added, and this is often overlooked in sport as well as business.
5 A’s to success
Mark Messier concluded with a checklist he entitled the five A’s, that is to say five items which will make leadership effective. Here they are:
- acknowledgement: not just of the top guys but of everyone in the team, even those doing the laundry. It’s the extended team that matters,
- attention: paying attention to the smallest details,
- acceptance: does the leader except team members unconditionally?
- affirmation: it’s not just for athletes, Mark added. Anybody with some knowledge could summon up that energy
These are simple words of wisdom, but they are so true that they will most certainly ring a bell for everyone.