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The power of a winning record: Leadership lessons from the Detroit Red Wings

The power of a winning record: Leadership lessons from the Detroit Red Wings

Posted on: May 27, 2013
Author: ATB Business & Agriculture

Win or lose in their series against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Detroit Red Wings have given organization watchers a lot to learn from. They have developed a franchise where they are always in the top tier of the win/loss column and a constant prospect to win the Stanley Cup. This year, when they were expected to be average at best, they are challenging to win it all again.

The Wings do not spend the most money, and because they are successful, by default, they do not get the most talented draft choices (the best young talent goes to the lowest ranked teams). They are not like the New York Yankees of baseball, spending huge amounts of money on free agents. So, eventually you would think the Red Wings would hit a wall of failure before they might recycle back to the top. Yet, they keep winning. Why?

  1. The top leadership really cares.

    The franchise ownership treats team members as family and demands excellence in every position—from players, equipment managers, to the ticket office. They think of their employees as people who complete a system of excellence, not sparkly chattel for just drawing fans or an entertainment commodity to be discarded indiscriminately.
  2. They patiently develop their talent.

    The farm team gets the best coaches, and mentoring is a key part of the process, beginning with the NHL veterans and extending to the front office, which is stocked with former players such as Chris Chelios, Jiri Fischer, and Kris Draper. As quoted in a recent Globe and Mail article about the Wings dynasty: "Regardless of who's coming in or going out, we always have really good people coming in,' said defenceman Niklas Kronwall, 32. "It's not just a player or a coach, it's good people in the right positions. I think it's only good for the young players."

    At the same time, the system requires great patience from the prospects. It is made clear to players such as defenceman Jakub Kindl, who was a first-round pick in 2005, that it will be years before they can expect a full-time job in Detroit. He had to spend four years in Grand Rapids, waiting for a vacancy, before landing a job this season at the age of 26.
  3. They develop a unique and clearly defined system.

    The Wings teach players how to contribute in THEIR system. Great leaders develop exceptional individual competency but expect that skill to be applied in a prescribed way of doing it The Red Wings way. It takes years to learn how to seamlessly act in all situations. Everyone knows their individual job AND role in the system.
  4. They demand respect, accountability, and abundance.

    The older players know that the younger guys will take their jobs. But they teach and mentor them to do so. They know they will always be part of The Red Wing alumni, and are treated fairly. You actually help people take over. You respect the system, mission, and team first. You hold yourself accountable to play your unique role and participate in the spoils of winning accordingly.

How does this apply to organizations on a broader scale?

Stanford University's Center for Leadership Development and Research recently polled over 160 CEOs and directors of North American public and private companies for the 2013 Survey on CEO Performance Evaluations. They asked CEOs and directors to rate both chief executive performance as well as the performance evaluation process.

When directors were asked to rank the top weaknesses of their CEO, mentoring skills and board engagement tied for the number one spot. According to Stephen Miles, founder and chief executive of The Miles Group,"This signals that directors are clearly concerned about their CEO's ability to mentor top talent…Focusing on drivers such as developing the next generation of leadership is essential to planning beyond the next quarter and avoiding the short-term thinking that inhibits growth."

Suggestion to all CEOs: Go visit and learn from the Detroit Red Wings.