This past week, Steve Yzerman re-affirmed his status as one of the greatest leaders hockey has ever known.
Yzerman, the former Detroit Red Wings captain, was given the task of picking the men’s hockey team that will represent Canada at the upcoming Sochi Olympics.
This week, Yzerman unveiled the 25 NHL players that will compete in Russia. There has already been a lot of debate about who was named, and who was left out. Although there will never be consensus in the Canadian hockey universe on exactly who should have been named to the team, debate over the players not selected focused on a single name: Tampa Bay captain Martin St. Louis.
St. Louis was considered a strong possibility for Team Canada. Not only because he is still a top NHL forward. But also because at 38 years of age, this was going to be his last opportunity to play for Canada at an Olympics.
Sentimentality aside, St. Louis had to like his chances. He was coming off one of his best point-producing seasons ever, and the man making the final decisions on Olympic personnel – Yzerman – is also the Tampa Bay general manager.
Imagine then how shocked St. Louis had to be when he was left off the Team Canada roster. “You guys can imagine how I feel, obviously, I’m extremely disappointed and I’ll just leave it at that.”
Yzerman did not shy away from responsibility for his decision. Yzerman said he and his staff picked the best 25 players without considering personal relationship or sentimentality. “There’s not much I can say,” Yzerman said of the decision to leave St. Louis off the Olympic roster. “I can’t apologize. We’ve got to make these decisions.”
Yzerman’s decision will be judged solely on his team’s performance in Sochi. Anything less than a gold medal, and the hockey legend will be second-guessed for all his decisions, including the one that denied St. Louis a chance to play for Canada.
And yet, isn’t this exactly the kind of behavior we expect of leaders? When a difficult decision has to be made, the best leaders put aside sentimentality and loyalty to make what they believe are the best decisions. That’s exactly what Yzerman did in this instance.
Loyalty is often a virtue of leadership, but it can also be a curse – especially if decisions are made, or avoided, because leaders are afraid to disrupt a personal relationship with a fellow leader or colleague. In the final analysis, good leaders must put aside personal considerations and focus on the best interests of the organization, even if that means harming a friendship.
I remember working with a CEO who was faced with a difficult decision on a promotion. One of the candidates for the promotion was a long-serving employee who had actually been a valued mentor to the CEO earlier in his career.
Many in the organization just assumed that the CEO would give the promotion to his friend and former mentor. Everyone was completely surprised when they learned that the CEO chose another candidate. In the final analysis this person was the best individual for the role.
It was a very difficult decision, and even though he made the decision based on what was right for his company, it ultimately cost him his friendship with his former mentor. While my client was comfortable with his decision, he deeply regretted the loss of a friend. This is the price that leaders must pay at times.
So this week’s gut check asks: Is your loyalty getting in the way of doing what’s right as a leader?
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About the Author
Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.Follow on Twitter More Content by Vince Molinaro