03/13/2014 05:45 EDT | Updated 05/13/2014 05:59 EDT

3 Strategies Businesses Can Take From Our Olympic Hockey Teams

In the final days of the Sochi 2014 Olympics, millions of Canadians (we are known for our love of hockey) wondered and worried if the country could pull it off -- that is, win two back to back hockey gold medals after watching both teams win in Vancouver 2010. They did win. The hockey titans -- men and women -- delivered. It was a reminder that "We Are Winter," and we are a hockey nation.

While the entire country celebrated, fewer asked how Canada's men and women's hockey teams achieved this milestone. What about business leaders? Can organizations apply similar strategies to our men and women's hockey teams that distinguish the best? There are three strategies that Canadian organizations can follow to win in business.


1. Develop Your Grit

Grit trumps talent. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Team USA's Julie Chu was asked what drove the Canadian women, who were down two goals in the final four minutes of the game. She uttered a single word: Desperation. Desperation drove the Canadians.

Angela Duckworth, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, would use a different word: Grit. How gritty or a person's grittiness is what truly defines success, says Duckworth. Gritty individuals have that rare ability to have a laser-like focus on goals, which sometimes takes years to achieve. They maintain interest, passion and effort despite insurmountable obstacles, failure, adversity and plateauing in progress. Grit is that special something that keeps people going -- dedicated to doing whatever it takes to hit that distant goal. Veteran player, Haley Wickenheiser said to her teammates prior to the over time period:

"This is our Apex. This is our 'Apex mountain.' We climbed that (B.C. mountain) on our bikes in the summer, and it was just so mentally and physically hard."

If that isn't grit, I don't know what is. Wickenheiser reminded her team they had an edge -- both in physical conditioning and mental toughness. The wonderful thing is that every player in the dressing room felt the same way.

In your organization, have you defined your 'apex mountain'? How do you keep your team gritty? How can you keep them performing and stretching themselves physically and mentally?

2. Practice deliberately

We've all heard the phrase, "practice makes perfect." This isn't quite true. To become great, deliberate practice is necessary. It involves identifying the weakest areas of your game and repeatedly working on them until you see improvement. This includes ongoing feedback and measuring progress.

The weakest part of Canada's men's hockey team was defence on the large international ice surface. The team agreed on a vision two years earlier, committing to learning how to play defensive hockey on the big Olympic rink. They decided that when they played offence, they would also play defence. This means "controlling the game by controlling the puck in the offensive zone." This was a big challenge because every Team Canada player is an offensive player for their respective NHL team. How would they achieve this? They would be disciplined and slow down the game. They would learn learn to play defence with each other without a need to score lots of goals. Winning meant defence -- stopping the other team from scoring and winning each game by a goal or two.

As coach, Mike Babcock said, "Great defence means you play defence fast and you have the puck all the time, so you're always on offence." Steve Yzerman summarized the game after Canada's 3-0 win against Team Sweden:

"There's never been a team like this one....There was not a single second of the gold-medal game when it appeared Sweden had any chance to win."

Men's Team Canada won all six games and allowed only three goals in the entire tournament.

As an organization, how well do you play defence before going on the offensive? What weaknesses can your team focus on to improve?


3. Be a servant leader

A servant leader (a phrase coined by Richard Greenleaf in the 1970s) is a leader whose first priority is to serve others as people gravitate towards an overarching purpose. There were no individual egos on the ice for Canada that took credit for winning. It was a team effort with great coaching that led both teams to victory. Even though Sidney Crosby didn't score until the final game, he led defensively and offensively supporting the team's game plan in the last few games. When Marie-Phillip Poulin was hailed as Canada's golden hero by the media after scoring two goals in the final, she deflected the comments and said her team's effort and hard work throughout the year is what helped them win.

Does your organization have servant leaders on the team? Are they recognized for their ability to give credit and take the team to the next level?


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