Five Hundred Year Old Leadership Lessons For a Young Hockey Team: What Machiavelli Can Tell Us About Leading the Edmonton Oilers

An article by the Prof...

Niccolo Machiavelli was a Renaissance philosopher, whose works is more than 500 years old. Some see him as evil, encouraging people to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. Indeed, the phrase "the ends justify the means" is attributed to him and Machiavellian (a term from his famour work, The Prince) has come to mean cunning, deceitful, and manipulative. Others see him as a realist whose insights influence modern political ideas.

Few however have sought Machiavelli's advice about hockey. That said, perhaps many of his ideas for achieving political succes and power translate into hockey's climate of intense competition. In this blgo, we take seven of Machiavelli's ideas and translate them into the needs of hiring the perfect coach for the Edmonton Oilers. 

Here are his ideas, with our added thoughts. 

Machiavelli Idea #1: “Good leaders understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.”

A good coach’s most important job is to find innovative solutions to the issues that face the team. No team will go unscathed throughout the entire season. Each team faces obstacles – game after game, and practice after practice. What separates good coaches from poor coaches is how they deal with these obstacles. Because, to a good coach, no obstacle, no opportunity. Teams face similar obstacles and face similar barriers: it is the team that rose to the challenge that eventually wins over the long haul.

Machiavelli Idea #2: “Nothing great was achieved without danger.” and “Where the willingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great.”

Arguably, Tom Renney was a good coach and helped provide a calm space for the young Oilers’ players to grow and develop. But, with a young team, big risks often lead to great rewards. Few risks lead to mediocre performance: it is the risk-taker who holds the promise to lead the Oilers to great times. We believe the willingness to take risks is a critical success factor for future Oiler success. “The coach should take big risks and encourage players to do so as well – that is what we see as Oiler Hockey! Furthermore, it gets harder as you get older and begin to 'acquire' things you don't want to risk losing.” Recently departed Apple CEO Steve Jobs reminds us, “Time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

Machiavelli Idea #3: “Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”

A good hockey coach must be able to adapt quickly to change. His mind must be flexible. This might be especially true when dealing with young hockey players – a nagging injury, a prolonged slump, a young player getting “down on himself,” youthful exuberance off the ice, the stress and grind of a long season, momentary mental lapses from another team. All these events call for the ability to see the times and change proactively to meet the possibilities that the times present. We believe it would be a mistake to get someone set in his ways – with an unchangeable “system” that must be followed, or else.

Machiavelli Idea #4: “I'm not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it.”

There is tradition and there is status quo. In Edmonton, our tradition is what we call Oiler’s Hockey. It relies on speed, grit, quick turnarounds, and attack. We tolerate on-ice mistakes – actually hoping to trade mistake for mistake, because we are faster and quicker than our opponents. That is Oiler Hockey. But, we also seem mired in a status quo that accepts finishing out of the playoffs – way down in the standings. And, this status quo must change. We need a coach who will simply overthrow it. We need a coach who will question common wisdom that we are willing to wait. We need a coach so NOT OKAY with the status quo that he seeks a better way to do things – one that crushes the recent molds. Machiavelli also said, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” Bringing change takes guts. The Oilers need a coach with pucks.

Machiavelli Idea #5: “The first method for estimating the intelligence of a leader is to look at the men he has around him.”

Weak coaches surround themselves with weak assistant coaches. Strong coaches always hire the best people they can find. Weakness leads to dysfunction and gets stuck in a lower stage of development. Who are the co-coaches the new coach will bring in? Will they act like adults, or more like children? Will they work as a team? Will they act decisively? Machiavelli also noted, “The wise man does at once what the fool does finally.” We need coaches who act decisively without over-planning.

Machiavelli Idea #6: “The more sand has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.”

Finally, it would be nice if the coach were older. Let’s call it the “Darryl Sutter Syndrome.” Sutter will be 54 in August. That is an age that brings with it wisdom. The perfect Edmonton Oiler coach should be someone who has guts, can think on the fly, can act decisively, and who has wisdom gained from experience.


Post a Comment

More To Read