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Gordie Howe – A Leader with a Human Touch

by John Zettler

June 21, 2016

Last week we lost one of the greatest hockey players ever to play the game. Interestingly enough, as I listened to my sports radio station to/from work, and as I watched his celebration of life on television, very little time was spent on how great a hockey player he was and the majority of the time was spent talking about who Gordie Howe was as a person.

Let’s put that into perspective. This was a person who scored 975 goals and added another 1383 assists in his WHA and NHL careers. He was also known as one of the toughest players to ever play the game and he’s consistently in the conversation as one of the best, if not the best, players to ever play his game. Yet, amidst that nobody was talking about him as a hockey player.

What they were talking about was the Gordie Howe who would do anything for the people he loved, including his fans. His favourite saying was, “I believe in the turtle approach. Be hard on the outside, soft on the inside and be willing to stick your neck out to get ahead.” Here’s some of my favourite stories I’ve heard over the past week and why I think Gordie Howe was such a great Leader.

1. He gave it his all in each and every game – Gordie’s perspective was that at each game it could be the one and only time that a person was ever going to watch him play hockey and the team play. That they’ve paid their hard earned money to be there and it was Gordie’s and his team’s responsibility to give them the best show they could. What would be possible if we gave our best each and every day?

2. He was a Mentor – The best example of this is Wayne Gretzky of course, but there were many stories shared of the life lessons that Gordie shared with people.

3. He made everyone feel important – I heard a gentleman call into the radio station to share a story about Gordie. He had played junior hockey where he billeted with the Howe family. He said that he was treated as “part of the family” when he lived there. He went on to tell a story about how he met Gordie at a charity tournament later in his life. During a 4-hour break, Gordie was tired and asked this gentleman if he lived close by. He did and they proceeded to go to his house. As they got there, somebody saw and recognized him and you can imagine how many people showed up. The gentleman telling the story said, “Gordie is here to rest, please go away,” to which Gordie replied, “No, don’t go away, I’ll sign autographs and talk to anyone who wants to for the next hour. Then, you’re welcome to stay but if you do you’ll have to sit and just have a beer with us and relax.” There are tons of these types of stories where Gordie always put everyone else first.

4. He added humour into his communication – Gordie never took himself or others too seriously, he was always able to add humour into situations regardless of where he was. Here are a couple.

5. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty – “He was never late for anything. To him it was courtesy. He made it a point to show up early and to chat with whomever he happened to meet and ask if he could help them. It was not surprising to find him helping the servers to set up tables at events where he was the featured speaker.”

6. He was a great listener – “If a fan told him a story, he would not interrupt no matter how long they spoke. And he would not correct them, even if they insisted they watched him play in the Summer Olympics in 1906. He accepted everyone for who they were, unless they were a boy with long hair. Then they got a little lecture.”

Certainly there is a lesson in here for all of us as to how we can live a better life and ultimately be a better Leader. What will you do differently to be more like Gordie?

I leave you with my favourite piece that I’ve heard Gordie talk about. It was a piece of advice he gave to his kids over the time. He said, and I don’t have this perfect I know:
“Life is like a deck of cards and we all get a hand dealt to us. Don’t spend so much time worrying about the deck that others have been dealt. Focus on the one you’ve been dealt and do the best you can with it. And, just be happy you’ve been dealt a hand at all.”

Best Success!

John Zettler, Director, Talent Strategy
& Development, Dale Carnegie Training®
Contact me at 905-826-7300 x 230 or jzettler@dalecarnegie.ca

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About the Author John Zettler brings almost 20 years of human resource experience to the challenge of better leadership we all share. He has invested his skills and energies and debated leadership with some of our country’s best leaders. Through this, he has refined a style of management that focuses on leadership conviction, authenticity and caring as the cornerstones of a more nuanced set of management skills we can all benefit from. Instead of balance in our life, he challenges us to a new style of work life blending that both gives us:1. The rush of seeing our people grow and prosper in a company that truly cares about them and their dreams.
2. The time and focus to also contribute the same level of passion to the needs of our families.

To hear more of his insights, click here to view his video as he discusses, “Leadership is Hard Work”.


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