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Serious Leadership: 5 Things We Can Learn from Jonathan Toews

Ever question your idea of what a leader should look or act like? It’s about time we all acknowledge that the ideas of a leader who wears suits and pounds on boardroom tables are simply no longer relevant. I wanted to focus on non-routine leaders in this series to do the concept full justice and hopefully shed light on different ideals of leadership. The fact of the matter is, leadership is exhibited through effective behaviour patterns and adapting to each unique situation more than it is fitting into a cardboard mold. We looked at an unexpected set of leadership lessons from TuPac last time; this time we dive into a completely different set of lessons from the sports world. 

My inspiration today comes from the void in many Canadians hearts during this COVID-19 pandemic: the absence of hockey. Watching games on replay do bring back certain feelings though and it conjures memories of confusingly-pleasant memories of what it feels like to watch live games – if we’re having heart palpitations, imagine how the players must feel under that pressure. It takes a next level individual to stand out in that situation.

Being able to battle back under that kind of pressure is seriously commendable. Taking a close look at the leadership squads of each team in the NHL, there is a prevalent and undeniable force of strength and resilience among all of them. To me, though, one person unquestionably stands out for being a relentless, and powerful presence. That person is Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Here are some of the ways Jonathan Toews exemplifies good leadership and what we can learn from them:

  1. He is mentally tough. He trains hard, he pushes himself, and he gets into the right mindset – à la “your mind quits before your body does.” Even when he physically appears to be out of gas, and the odds are stacked against him he digs deeper. Good leaders need to remain mentally tough to succeed. The competition may bark louder, and have more resources, but there is no reason mental resilience can’t take you above and beyond them to achieve your desired outcomes. Get your game face on, get your mind in the game and stay with the fight til the bitter end.
  2. He is confident. As much as his team gives him flak for being “Captain Serious,” one thing they admire and feed off of is his confidence. When the pressure is on, your team will be watching to see how you handle it. This will shape how they react. It’s like when an airplane hits turbulence, passengers look at the flight attendants and wait to be reassured by the Captain. Lead with confidence to encourage strength and morale on your team.
  3. He leads by example. When the team is hitting a slump, or can’t seem to find their feet, one thing Toews is good at is re-invigorating their spirit and working to get them the fuel they need to get back on track. Last night, the team had a rough start and couldn’t seem to get organized. Toews got things going by being the first to score. Immediately the team seemed to perk up a bit and managed to one up the Lightning – a team they were having difficulty with in previous games. In business, and in life, it’s not always smooth sailing. Good leaders know it is up to them to step it up a notch to show their team “we’re in this together.” This is an obvious, yet often overlooked way to motivate people. Often, it’s tempting to fall victim to the negative vibes and situation. It’s important to stay tough (see point 1), and lead by example. Show your team where you want to be by finding a way to take the first step.
  4. He gives credit where it’s due. We have all had a “boss” who takes credit for our work and we all know how it makes us feel. Taking credit for others’ achievements is the enemy of motivation and success. Toews exudes a collaborative attitude, often passing or setting up a play for other team mates, and celebrating their wins as excitedly as he celebrates his own. This goes a long way in keeping morale and determination at optimal levels. In post-game interviews, when he is often overly praised and reporters are sucking up to him, he often deflects to the achievements of his team-mates and gives them the credit they deserve. While leadership is important, it’s nothing without cohesive team effort and contribution. Keep your team motivated to contribute and produce with positive feedback, taking a minute to check in with them, and giving them an opportunity to have their say in how things are done. It’s not all about you and your success, you’re there to pave the way and inspire the team to get there together.
  5. He has his team’s back. Toews is no stranger to standing his ground. With all the hard hits, and the questionable moves in hockey a captain needs to look out for their team. So does any leader. A good leader sticks up for their team, and ensures they are treated with the utmost respect and professionalism. It’s not only the best way to encourage trust, it’s the most human way. Us humans trust other humans with whom we feel secure. 

Some of these points are pretty basic, but seeing them in action resonates with me on what a good leader looks like.

Do you agree that Toews is a good leader? What is “a good leader” to you?

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