“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”
~ Simon & Garfunkel
What would you like people to say about you when you retire? Here’s the test to see if you’re on the right track: Would they say all those nice things about you today? If so, relax: You’re doing well. If not, you need to get busy making whatever behavioral changes are necessary before you plan your retirement party.
Just a few days ago, on June 26, Joe Sakic was selected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. This honor was no surprise to any hockey fan, as the former Colorado Avalanche forward ranks ninth on the list of players who have scored the most regular-season points (goals and assists) in NHL history.
Additionally, Sakic was one of the best clutch players of all time. As proof of that, he holds the NHL record for the most overtime goals in the playoffs, with eight. These goals – and Sakic’s leadership as the team’s captain – helped the Avalanche win two Stanley Cups, in 1996 and 2001. (Having the unflappable Patrick Roy in goal and the dangerous Peter Forsberg on the second line also helped immeasurably, of course, but our focus here is on the team’s captain, who tirelessly worked to bring all the pieces of the Avalanche together into a cohesive, successful whole.)
For those of us who felt we knew Sakic – even if only from news stories – we always knew that there was much more than “just” his 625 career NHL goals that made him so special.
Indeed, there was the man behind the scoring machine. When Joe Sakic said, “I never grew up wanting to be in the spotlight, I just wanted to be a hockey player,” you believed him. Of course, nobody makes it into the Hall of Fame without being competitive, so you also believed ESPN hockey analyst Darren Pang, when he said of Sakic, “He’s one of the most likeable athletes of our generation, but when he gets on the ice, he wants to win.”
The words of no-nonsense Denver Post hockey reporter Adrian Dater are also meaningful. Earlier this week, Dater wrote, “I’ve known Sakic for 17 years now myself, and it’ll always be a great privilege to say I covered his best years as a player. Just to say I know the guy is a great privilege.” I would guess that in two decades of sports reporting, Dater has rarely said that about an athlete.
In this age where even high school star athletes all too often act like they’re entitled, “Super Joe” provides four great lessons for everyone in how a leader can be a true superstar:
1. Never Stop Working on Getting Better: Sakic was legendary for his work ethic – on and off the ice – and his hard work and extra effort didn’t stop when he became a star. He always came to the games ready to play, and he always gave everything he had to his workouts and his off-season training regime. In practice, Sakic was known for taking shots on goal, and then more shots, and then even more shots. That’s how you keep up your skills and can even hope to improve every year. This is the personal side of the Japanese business and operations theory of Kaizen, or continuous improvement.
How many of us are not nearly the stars in our respective galaxies that Sakic was, but after a certain number of years doing the same thing – and reaching a certain level of success – we feel that we should be able to take it a little bit easy? Well, if that ever was acceptable or defensible, it certainly isn’t any longer. With the constant change in the legal profession and business, and the continually increasing competition everywhere, it’s mandatory for everyone to continue to hone their skills throughout their careers.
2. Lead by Example: This lesson is a natural consequence of the first one. All the hard work that Sakic put in to improving his game did not go unnoticed by his teammates and others.
As “Captain Development” points out, there are many traits that go into being a leader, but the most common one is leading by example. How can you as a leader have credibility without it? You may tell yourself that you’re following the “working smarter, not harder” mantra, but your corporate teammates will make up their own minds about you – and leading by example is the best way to win them over.
3. Share the Glory, and There Will Be More Glory to Share: Sakic came into the NHL in 1988, joining the Quebec Nordiques at the age of 19. He quickly captured attention with his scoring prowess, both in goals and assists. Sakic ranks 15th on the all-time list in NHL goals scored with 625, but when one also looks at his 1,016 assists, he ranks ninth in total points with 1,641.
Did that make Sakic doubly dangerous? Absolutely. As Ken Hitchcock, coach of the St. Louis Blues, said, “He was the one player that I always feared…every time he was on the ice.” But since Sakic had the well-deserved reputation of being quick to pass the puck to others, the other team couldn’t just zero in on number 19 in the expectation that he always would shoot it himself. Additionally, by being more than willing to share with others, Sakic helped to win the hearts of his teammates. As a leader, that’s something you can’t put a price on, whether it happens in the sports arena or the corporate boardroom.
4. Nice Guys Can Finish First: Proving that nice guys don’t always finish last, the overwhelming tribute that came from Sakic’s teammates, coaches – and opponents – was that he was a truly good, kind and humble person. In fact, at the press conference announcing Sakic’s retirement, Avalanche General Manager Pierre Lacroix broke into tears and described Sakic by emphasizing his humility, class, professionalism, integrity, honor and consistency. Not a bad mix.
It’s significant that Lacroix almost didn’t mention Sakic’s incredible record on the ice, but insisted on pointing out, “Let’s not forget the man he is.” Lacroix went on to say, “My family and I are privileged to know you, and we’re convinced we’re better people because of it.” The GM finished up by saying, “You make everyone around you so much better.” Can you think of anything better that you’d like others to say about you at your retirement?
Joe Sakic reminds us that the attributes that Paul Simon found so appealing in Joe DiMaggio are not gone from the sports world, or from our society at large. And Sakic serves as a model for us all. If Gentleman Joe Sakic can make to the very top of the incredibly competitive – and literally bone-crunching and bloody – world of professional hockey, why do so many would-be leaders who sit at desks for a living believe that their standard of behavior should be any less?