Today, the United States Olympic hockey team will try to win its first gold medal since the legendary Miracle on Ice team of 1980. A lot has changed in the last 30 years as this team is made up of NHL players and veterans that are far from the college team filled with kids who captivated the country, and many all over the world, decades ago. However, the game today got me thinking about that team of kids and their accomplishment and in particular about the coach of that team, the legendary Herb Brooks. The way he built that team is an example of outstanding leadership on so many levels. One of the keys to their collective success was Brooks belief in teamwork. It’s been well documented, most visibly in the motion picture Miracle by Disney, that Brooks took a unique approach to creating a team that he believed could achieve more than anyone thought possible.
How did he do it? There are a few specific areas that I believe are key.
- The Right Players- One of the quotes that has always stayed with me since first hearing it was “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m lookin’ for the right ones.” In creating a high performing team, no matter what the situation, an essential element is getting everyone to buy into the goal and to be willing to fit a role that will best support the team. I’ve been part of some really great teams and some that probably didn’t really reach their full potential. When you can get the “right” mix, it’s truly awe-inspiring to see how the efforts of many come together to produce more than the sum of their parts.
- Egos Are Checked- Another common pitfall for teams, which ties back to understanding roles, is the interference of ego. Let’s face it, we have them. We all like to be recognized and viewed as good at what we do. And, there’s nothing wrong with wanting recognition for good work; but if it becomes the source of jealousy or any member of the team focuses more on their own glory than team it can become a distraction or downright cancer to the success of the team.
- Heart- This is one of the elements that you can’t just preach or teach. Feeling personally connected to a team has to come from each member and it has to be genuine. For the highest performing teams, in sports or in a professional environment, you have to care about others on the team. You won’t always be best friends, or even close with everyone, but you have to support them. You must accept both the strengths and weaknesses of the team members and find ways to succeed together. Brooks understood this and created a tremendously demanding environment for the team and intentionally kept them at a distance, which was unusual for him versus other coaching efforts, but it strengthened the team. The team joined together, put differences aside, and became as it worked to reach a far greater goal.
As the United States and Canada meet today, I know that nothing will ever top the 1980 team in my eyes. I also recognize that the reason that team was so special to me has a lot more to do with teamwork, pride, and courage than just hockey. It’s about the miracle of teams.
If you want to check out more about Herb Brooks and his work, you can visit http://www.herbbrooksfoundation.com