This is another blogpost about business and life lessons we can learn from the Washington Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup Championship. Today, we talk about the importance of leadership.
Alexander Ovechkin is the Captain of the Capitals, and the leader of the team. He is one of the most talented players in hockey, a certain hall of fame player. Among current players, he is one of the National Hockey League’s leading scorers, and throughout his career has been known for his incredible talent and skill set.
His skills, talent, and strength of will have won many games for the Washington Capitals over the years…but never the big ones that really counted. The Capitals earned a well-deserved reputation as a team that achieved excellence in the regular season, but underperformed and choked in the playoffs.
As the years rolled on, people began to wonder if Ovechkin and the Capitals would ever win the Stanley Cup. His talent was never in doubt…but his leadership skills were starting to be called into question. It was obvious what Alexander Ovechkin had to do in order to gain the ultimate success he always wanted.
He needed to take more of a leadership role…and he responded brilliantly in 2018.
As the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs unfolded you could see a clearly different Alexander Ovechkin. He did all of the things that leaders did…putting his teammates first, taking responsibility for his team’s failures, and passing the credit around when they won.
This was best demonstrated when the Capitals lost their first two home games in their very first series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. As the media (and Capitals fans) began talking about another horrific, choking, early exit from the playoffs, Ovechkin assured the fans in a media interview: They had lost the first two games, but would go to Columbus, win the next two games, and return to Washington with the series tied.
Which is exactly what happened.
It created a surge of momentum that turned the series around, with Washington winning in six games. Ovechkin did what good leaders do…he shouldered the responsibility for failure, and led from the front. He knew his teammates didn’t want to answer the inevitable questions, and his actions meant they didn’t have to.
The message was clear: This is Alexander Ovechkin’s team, and he would be responsible for what happened.
He also responded with incredible play throughout the playoffs. He played tough, determined, hard hitting hockey. He punished the other teams with physical play.
He scored more goals than anyone else in the 2018 playoffs.
And he gave the credit away to his teammates. Throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs, you could see Ovechkin celebrating wildly when his team won, and showing incredible joy when his teammates stepped up and scored. He seemed genuinely happier when they did well than when he made a big play.
He achieved excellence…playing arguably the best hockey of his life when it mattered the most. He shouldered all of the blame when things went bad, and gave away the credit when things went well.
His teammates loved him for it, and played with more passion, grit, and determination than they ever had before.
Which is a huge lesson for business leaders.
There’s a lot of talk in the business world, particularly in the entrepreneurial space, about being a “boss” or a “boss lady”. I understand why it’s important to have that kind of confident, authoritative attitude.
It’s true that people may listen to the boss. They may obey the boss.
But they run through brick walls for leaders.
A passionate leader who achieves great results, while taking responsibility and giving away credit…joyfully celebrating the accomplishments of his colleagues and co-workers… inspires people.
They’ll follow that person with commitment and passion, and do great things.
They’ll do far greater things when they feel like they are part of something special, being led by someone special, than they will simply for the money….or because the boss tells them to do their job.
It took Alex Ovechkin many years to grow into the role of a strong leader, but it paid huge dividends for his career….and it will for yours, too.