How to Lead Like Ken Dryden

The former Habs goaltender and cabinet minister on what he's learned during a Hall of Fame career on and off the ice

Written by Alexandra Bosanac

For most hockey stars, playing in the NHLis the highlight of their careers, perhaps their lives. But former goaltenderKen Dryden—who famously cut short his career with the Montreal Canadiens to pursue a degree in law—has plenty of other accomplishments to choose from.

The netminder and Hockey Hall of Famer led from the crease during the Habs run of dominance in the 1970s, winning six Stanley Cups and the Conn Smythe, Calder and Vezina trophies.He also playedfor Team Canada in the seminal 1972 Summit Series against theSoviet Union. But even after he hung up skates, his public profile kept growing.Dryden went on to earn that law degree, and to becomea Liberal cabinet minister, hockey executive, educator at McGill University, and celebrated author.

Dryden shared some of the wisdom he’s amassed from his long and varied career with the next generation of leaders in a keynote address atthe The Catalyst Canada Honours Conferencein Toronto last month.Here’s what he had to say about leadership.

Money and talent can explain some victories—but notall of them

“When we won in Montreal—and we won a lot in Montreal at that particular time—people would ask us, ‘Why do you win all the time? Other people win sometimes, you win all the time. Why?’ And you kind of run out of the general answers—best general manager, best coach, best players. It didn’t seem to be a completely satisfactory answer. In the end the only answer is that it’s the tradition of the Canadiens. What does tradition mean in the end? It’s the culture of a company. It’s the culture of an organization, it’s the culture of a team.”

Successful organizations know how to fail well

“One of the great things that you learn in sports is that things go wrong almost all the time. Look at a hockey game—you try to go up the ice, you lose the puck. Somebody else has it, you chase it, then he loses the puck. You have this plan about how to get on the ice, and you almost never succeed. You just keep at it and you just try to make something out of the pieces that have been created out of the things that have gone wrong. But the lesson that you learn is that you don’t get discouraged by it because you don’t even think about it. You just know that it’s in the next moment that you have to make something happen.”

For Canadian businesses to successfully compete on the world stage, we must shed outdated stereotypes

“We’ve missed thebasic understanding of what we are as a country. There’s aline that I would hear again and again that would always set me off: People would say, ‘typically Canadian, eh?’ whensomething didn’t quite work out. Give me a break. Not quite achieving something is the timeless Canadian experience and is unique to Canada and doesn’t exist anywhere else? Look around—this place works pretty well. ‘Typically Canadian’ cuts you off at your knees, makes you think that it’s destiny, your story, your tradition, your culture, that things don’t work.”

Take control over your story

“Here’sthe first thing we need to get right. What is it we really are? What is it we really have within us to be? And write that story. If you have that sense of it, you start asking, ‘What would a company like that do in this situation?’ And that’s what the strong culture does.”

Choose a seat in the front or the back—avoid the middle at all costs

“I did a book on schools almost 20 years ago. I went back to school for a year and just sat in class everyday, to see who’s learning and who’s not learning, who’s a good teacher, who isn’t and why.One of the things that was really clear is that students in the front row interacted all the time. Hand up for every question, hand up for every answer, arriving early, talking to the teacher. Back corner? Lots of interaction. Sometimes destructive, sometimes not. But back corner kids are only successful if they interrupt at absolutely the wrong moment, because to interrupt at absolutely the wrong moment you have to be listening. Those kids will do pretty well in the future. It’s the kids in the middle that have to worry.”

When you have a ‘middle kid’ on your team, reach out

“We’re all middle kids in lots of things and we can all think of those things that we’re not very good at and we’ll make a list of three or four if not more. What happens when we are confronted by this particular subject? Well, we find ways of disappearing so nobody notices us. That’s what the middle kid does in the classroom. They findways of disappearing. Theynever ask a question, never answer a question, never go up early, never stay late—all those things might reveal you as not knowing anything. They can go weeks without a teachertalking to them. You can’t teach to somebody you don’t know. You have to know about that person to talk to that person.It doesn’t work otherwise… And so, inthe teacher’s role, a coach’s role, an HR role, whatever, you find them and you’re stuck with them and you need to find a way to work with them try to find something they’re interested in. Try to find something they’re proud of then maybe you havea chance to go from there.”


What are the most important leadership lessons you’ve learned during your career? Let us know by commenting below.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com