June 15, 2011

The Boston Bruins Won the Cup: Why it Relates to Leadership

Sadly, my beloved Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup Final to those pesky but perseverant Boston Bruins in what is being denoted as the strangest Stanley Cup Final ever. I was at the game, and I tip my hat to the Bruins.

I could go on to outline the athletic merits of the Bruins versus the Canucks, but that would not be consistent with my usual writing in this space.

And yes, the fact I’m writing this post is to make nice on a ‘Twitter Bet’ I made with my friend @eric_andersen, of IBM, and an ardent Bruins fan himself. The bet? Whoever won Game 7 would result in one of us writing a blog post about the other team.

Why did Boston win?

There are probably several reasons, but the one I’m about to focus on concerns leadership.

Now, this is not to state that the Vancouver Canucks are devoid of leadership. In fact, the turnaround of the organization is a remarkable story of leadership.

The Canucks used to be one of the laughingstock franchises in the National Hockey League. Sellouts were as rare as Haley’s Comet, player personnel were uninterested in playing for the Canucks, ownership was American (not a bad thing, per se) but absent, and there was no such thing as a six-year waiting list for seasons tickets as there is today.

Many so-called experts believe the good fortune of the Canucks started to happen with the arrival of Brian Burke, formerly the General Manager (now with arch enemy Toronto Maple Leafs) who was resolute in his strategy to turn the franchise around.

Through the ensuing years after Burke’s arrival in 1998, he set the path, executed on it with his team and, through various political and ownership realignment was eventually exited. Nonetheless, it was his somewhat truculent leadership style that put the wheels in motion for the turnaround.

Fast-forward to 2008 where, through new ownership, short-term post-Burke General Manager Dave Nonis was fired in favour of Mike Gillis, who, subsequently, was handed the keys to a superb hockey engine. To reach the ultimate hockey holy grail of the Stanley Cup, it was Gillis’ responsibility to ensure the engine was fine-tuned, and capable of several cross-continent trips.

What happened, you might be asking, and how did the Canucks lose and the Bruins win?

It’s not as though General Manager Gillis employed inferior leadership characteristics since his arrival in 2008. He has made some absolutely brilliant decisions, employed what seems to be phenomenal collaboration practices within the organization, and seems to have a highly engaged team, both on and off the ice.

Off the grid leadership decisions include hiring sleep consultants, individual nutrition plans for each player, made much larger than normal investments in player development and scouting, and really drove a fan-first experience in the arena, and more importantly, in the community.

In a nutshell, and hometown bias aside, I don’t think there is a better leadership example of strategy, execution, collaboration and outcome (aside from the Stanley Cup) than the combination of Mr. Burke, Mr. Nonis and particularly Mr. Gillis over the past 13 years.

But, to my chagrin and to the rejoice of my Twitter pal Eric, the Canucks suffered an unimaginable Game 7 Stanley Cup loss to the Boston Bruins after being up 2-0 and 3-2 in the series itself.

It’s my view that the Vancouver Canucks were beaten by the Bruins throughout the Stanley Cup Final for one clear reason: they were outclassed in terms of leadership.

Consider the following:

  • The Canucks were unwilling to demonstrate any leadership when it came to the need to change strategy during the Final
    • Despite a winning record during the season (number one in the league no less), and through the first three rounds of the playoffs, it’s my belief that the senior leadership of the team believed they could win with the exact same strategy that got them there in the first place.
    • Boston clearly shifted strategy and employed leadership throughout the Stanley Cup Final, making adjustments to ensure they were successful in their style of play, their discipline, and their tactics
    • The Bruins were unwavering in their leadership solidarity. They stuck to their plan as a unit, and never deviated
      • Contrast that with Canucks, who, after being up 3-2 in the series, became cocky, arrogant, and even decided to mock the Conn Smythe Trophy winner (MVP) Tim Thomas in his goaltending style

I will continue to purchase my season tickets with the Canucks for the foreseeable future, however, I believe they need to demonstrate a far greater degree of leadership the next time they reach the Stanley Cup Final.

And congratulations to the Boston Bruins.

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