4 Leadership Lessons from the NHL

On November 17, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman along with Geoff Molson, President and CEO of the Montreal Canadiens, the Bell Centre and evenko, along with three NHL general managers, shared their thoughts on the league’s 100th anniversary. Students who attended the talk—and who are tomorrow’s leaders—came away with four key messages about leadership that they can apply to any business.

1. Surround yourself with good people


  • By choosing leaders who have practical experience. The idea is to help your internal staff evolve so that the organization benefits from managers with a good understanding of the issues and a solid sense of the business culture.
  • By choosing each team member for both their hard talents and soft skills. This was the advice from Marc Bergevin, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens, who builds his team based on these two criteria.

2. Have a vision and be transparent

For Gary Bettman, being a good leader means:

  • Believing in your vision.
  • Having patience.
  • Getting informed to make thoughtful and fair decisions that aren't based on emotion.
  • Being transparent in everything you say and do and being accountable to your management team.
  • Being aware that every decision will be met with disagreement, as you can’t please everyone.
  • Always forging ahead to survive criticism.

3. Don’t rest on your success


  • By not limiting yourself to what you know how to do. This was the lesson from Geoff Molson, who believes that you need a proactive attitude both on and off the ice. To translate this to the business world, a company needs to innovate and get out of its comfort zone to stay competitive.
  • By making customers the focus of company success—a key criteria for the NHL. There are two goals to this: encourage customer loyalty (by providing a customer experience that meets fans’ expectations, in the case of the NHL) and expand the customer base (by reaching out to new audiences, such as millennials, through mobile apps).
  • By offering competitive salaries that are adapted to business growth. As Gary Bettman pointed out, at the beginning of the 1990s, the average player salary was $300,000, whereas today it is $3 million.

4. Get involved

Mr. Bettman brought up two programs launched by the Canadiens: “Hockey Is for Everyone” and “Hockey Fights Cancer.” He explained that, through these programs, “we can use the league’s and our athletes’ visibility to have an impact on the community and make a difference in people’s lives.” [1]

What were the main takeaways from the talk? That today, a growing company needs to engage with its community by demonstrating social responsibility.

These four aspects of leadership contribute to business success. What other keys to leadership would you add to this list?

This post was based on interviews with a number of students: Drissa Bagayan (ESG UQAM); Mikaël Brunet-Frappier (ESG UQAM); Maxence Genete (UQAM); Sylla Maldini (ESG UQAM); Victor Mikolajczyk (McGill University).

Student participation at the talk is part of the Tomorrow’s Leaders Program and was made possible thanks to Power Corporation of Canada.

[1] Montréal accueille Bettman et les directeurs généraux de la LNH à Montréal, nhl.com

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