From a dark, cold night, they would appear out of nowhere. Plying their trade in the dead of rainy Vancouver winters, these Swedish twins were always looking to make a play.
Sometimes it was in a corner. Often it was clandestine. No matter the situation these two individuals were total pros.
I am of course referring to two hockey players, perhaps the finest to ever have worn the Vancouver Canucks jersey.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin—twin brothers from Örnsköldsvik, Sweden—were drafted by the Canucks second and third overall in 1999 and played their entire careers for the blue, white and green. On Saturday, April 7th, 2018 they played their last NHL professional game in Edmonton.
Their chemistry on the ice was second to none. The puck seemed to be on a string when they played, leading to incredible goals with near perfect, sixth sense setups. What was also evident with the Sedin brothers, on the ice they cared deeply for one another and the teammates that played alongside them.
From a leadership perspective, there is much to learn from the Sedins both on and off the ice.
As their careers began in Vancouver, they were tormented. Be it the press, fans or rival players; the Sedins were mocked as being too soft, too meek, and at times, too Swedish. But they persevered. Blood was shed, and teeth were knocked out. During their early years of 2000-2005, both brothers demonstrated an incredible level of resilience. They just never gave up, be it on each other, or themselves.
What is also evident—looking back now over the span of their nearly two-decade careers—is their determination to get better. In the crosshairs of continually being ridiculed, the Sedins went to work and improved themselves so much, they both ended up winning the NHL’s scoring race and various MVP honors in later years.
As those early years of development shifted into years of dominance, it can be traced to these two aspects: resilience and the determination to get better. It makes me wonder how many up-and-coming employees who seek to be leaders are committing themselves to a lifetime of grit and self-development?
Some of us still believe tenure and experience are the reasons to be promoted into leadership roles. This type of thinking may not be the wisest strategy. When we commit ourselves to learning, to taking our knocks, to suffering from mistakes, and to putting in the time to get better, only then should we expect leadership roles (and success) to follow.
But what has impressed me the most about the Sedin twins is not their chemistry, on-ice play, leadership, resilience or commitment to get better. Usually, those characteristics would have me lauding anyone, let alone two hockey players.
The Sedins stand out for me because of what they have done over eighteen years “off” the ice. This is where their real legacy and leadership stands apart.
Very early on in their career, the Sedins made it known that Vancouver would become their home. While a trip to Sweden in the summer at the end of the hockey season was always scheduled, they became part of the fabric of the Vancouver community. I know, because I lived there for most of those years.
Living in an adopted sporting city is one thing as an athlete. But when you immerse yourself in the community, that’s when you have indeed become a selfless leader.
Imagine for a minute you are one of two star players in a city where the sport is under the microscope all day, every day. Hockey is to Vancouver as football is to Dallas or soccer is to Manchester. Now, imagine you are as recognizable as the Pope in that city. Wherever you go, people stop you for autographs, or to chat about last night’s loss, or that penalty you took in overtime.
The Sedins took everything in stride. I have seen the twins on the sidelines of soccer matches, at school, walking the neighborhood, where time and time again, they treated everyone with respect, friendliness, and energy.
It reminds me that leaders always ought to be aware of their impact. They cannot sulk, they cannot complain, and they must step above any current malaise that may be a part of their day. Throwing others under the bus, for example, is not the mark of leadership. It is the sign of an inexperienced individual.
But the Sedins went even further. When off the ice, a considerable portion of the Sedin’s time was devoted to community giving and philanthropy. Most of it went undocumented, for the twins did not want the spotlight. An inordinate amount of time was spent in hospitals and hospices, particularly those with children. There have been executives in those institutions who have shared with me legendary stories of their giving, their time, and their compassion.
When one can balance the need to get better and to perform, all the while giving back to those in need, it becomes the epitome of leadership.
For ten seasons I was fortunate to have season tickets to the Vancouver Canucks. I watched the Sedins mature into incredible hockey players, easily first ballot NHL Hall of Fame candidates.
But what I witnessed directly and indirectly off the ice is what I will likely remember more.
During their last game in Edmonton, as the seconds ticked off and as it eventually turned into a shootout, several young children were seen on the Vancouver Canucks bench. It was the Sedin’s children. It was an extraordinary moment.
Whether on the ice or off of it, the Sedins taught us to not only be better leaders but to be better human beings.
Thank you, Hank and Danny. Vancouver and the entire province of British Columbia are blessed to have known you for all these years.