Although the title line was uttered in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, my late dad used it at the dinner table to describe his sometimes-lonely role as a manager/leader at the old New England Telephone & Telegraph Company.
I’m reminded of the line because one of my twin boys was elected a captain for their high school hockey team this season. I study and teach leadership and was wondering what advice you might offer to a 16-year-old heading into his junior year, who is expected to lead in a formal way for the first time this hockey season.
Can/should I, as his dad, share my thoughts on the subject? Will my son listen? Perhaps it’s no different from the advice I would give to his teammate brother who, although he doesn’t possess a formal role, sees himself in a leadership capacity this year as well—as he should. Perhaps this advice holds true for anyone, at any age or in any vocation. You don’t need the formal title to be viewed as a leader.
So here are a few things to think about in the role of a leader:
Held To A Higher Standard
As a captain, rightly or wrongly, fellow players, coaches, the student body and parents will look at you in a slightly different light. Your mistakes will be magnified and many of your contributions will be overlooked. You are expected to accomplish much though given
little. Coaches will pressure you in one direction while your teammates (friends) see things completely differently.
Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Be genuine, don’t copy or mimic others, and accept the fact that you can’t please everyone. That is not to say you can’t study and learn from others. Read about interesting people and how they lead their lives. At the end of the day, strive to do the right thing. It’s often not the easiest thing.
Leaders Serve Others
Forget about me, me and me. It’s all about them, them and them. Your teammates won’t remember you for what you did but for what you did for them. Great officers in the military are taught to care for their soldiers’ needs before their own. The soldiers come to admire and respect those leaders who are looking out for them and they, in turn, will go to the ends of the earth to help them succeed. It’s called trust and respect.
Don’t get into the habit of calling out a player on the ice or on the bench in front of his peers, coaches and fans. Let the coaches do it. If they make a mistake, younger teammates need to know in order to learn. That’s the teaching aspect of being a leader. Be honest but offer solutions on how to improve. This builds trust. Remember, it’s often the way the message is delivered that determines whether it will be accepted or not.
Unlike when giving negative feedback, which is often best done in private, don’t hold back on publicly celebrating successes. It is food for the soul. Acknowledge the unselfish play of a teammate every time and that behavior will spread. It’s something special when hockey players applaud a player’s actions by tapping their sticks on the boards at the bench.
Outwork Everyone Else
Hard work, not words, is the ticket to success. Whether it’s in preseason captains’ practices or at the in-season ones, it’s the drudgery of practice where games are won or lost. If you are willing to skate the extra lap at full speed then others will, too. If you slack off or take a shift off, why should anyone else not follow your lead as well? Pride yourself in not letting anyone outwork you. More often than not, it will pay off in games—and life.
Dealers In Hope
Leadership is most admired — and most needed — when things get tough. When your goalie makes the big play, everyone applauds. When he lets in a soft goal, be the first to go
up and offer encouragement. Stay calm; keep your head about you. Let your teammates look to you, and see hope. Never, ever, quit. If the score is 10-0, never let your opponent feel that they broke your spirit. Everyone in the rink, from players to coaches to fans, is watching to see who “quits” and who “fights” until the final buzzer.
Speak With One Voice
You may not always see eye-to-eye with your coaches on specific game strategy, and it’s OK to voice your opinion behind closed doors but once a decision has been made and the door swings open, you must speak as one. Your role is awkward. At times you will go to the coaches and speak for the players and at other times you will be expected to go to the players and speak for the coaches. Represent both sides to the best of your ability.
Humility & Class
There is always someone better out there. Stay humble but carry yourself with dignified confidence. You win with class, and lose with dignity. Such attributes won’t be lost on your teammates or your opponents.
It’s A Game
The game of hockey, like life itself, is way too short. Enjoy the ride and savor the friendships, the challenges, the lessons you learn along the way — and the laughs. They are all snapshots for the scrapbook in your mind. Don’t forget to smile in the pictures.
Character Is A Way Of Life
A wise man once said, “Leadership is all about character, and character is doing the right thing when no one else is watching.” Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.
Don’t Judge Success By The Scoreboard
Hockey is the consummate team game. Rightly or wrongly, you will ultimately be judged by your contributions and the team’s results. Although a thing called talent is out of your hands, hard work is not.
Wearing the “C” is both an honor and a privilege. With it comes great responsibility to your teammates, your coaches and to yourself. It is not a role to be taken lightly. Even as I write this I hear my father say, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.”