In this week’s Sports Illustrated, there is an article about Bobby Orr. For those who don’t know who Orr is, he is currently one of the top hockey player agents in North America. More importantly, for those who don’t know who Orr was, he was, arguably, the greatest hockey player ever. He was certainly the greatest hockey player of his time (the 1970s).
As with most sports, one person does not a winning team make. In hockey, there are five men on the ice at any given time and lines (the group of players on the ice at one time) change frequently. Success can only come from a true team effort.
In hockey and life in general, there are leaders and there are followers. Those with talent, especially off the charts talent, can choose to accept their role as a leader – because the most talented are always looked upon to lead by their peers – or they can remain an individual contributor. In the former case, a great individual can raise the bar for others, challenge them and teach them how to be better, making a larger group of people fundamentally better. In the latter case, a star player rides alone, doing great things, but limited by the constraints of being an island.
Orr was a natural leader who took the lead and made his team better. Hard on himself and hard on others. He quickly gave credit to his teammates and knew that his team would win as a unit or lose as one. In the article, there is a quote about Orr’s leadership that says it all. Ken Dryden, a goalie for the Montreal Canadians, who played against Orr says:
“He brought others with him; he wanted them involved. That’s what made him so different: It felt like a five-player stampede moving toward you – and at his pace. He pushed his teammates, [because] you’re playing with the best player in the league and he’s giving you the puck and you just can’t mess it up. You had to be better than you’d ever been.”
Talented individuals in any type of organization have tremendous leadership potential. When they use their talents to make their entire team better, the results can be outstanding. The team is comprised of one tremendously talented individual and many people performing at or above the limits of their capabilities, trying to rise to the level of their leader. When a supremely talented individual chooses to work alone, he/she leaves the team behind, missing the opportunity to leverage their ability across a larger group. Certainly not a tragedy, but definitely a waste.
If you manage such talented people, it’s your job to teach them the benefits that both they and the entire group get from their accepting the leadership call and the advantages that come from their giving others the puck.