Gut Check: Have Your People Stopped Going To Battle For You?

April 13, 2015 Vince Molinaro
Gut Check: Have Your People Stopped Going To Battle For You?The National Hockey League playoffs are about to get underway and it’s a great time of the year for most all hockey fans. And already, a great leadership lesson has played out with two teams and their coaches.

Daryl Sutter, the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings and Claude Julien, the head coach of the Boston Bruins have had tremendous success in recent years. Sutter has won The Stanley Cup two of the last three years. Julien won a cup in 2011, made another trip in 2013, and last year won the President’s Trophy as the league’s top team.

What makes their story interesting is that both teams didn’t make the playoffs this year. A stunning turnaround for two of the most dominant teams over the last five years. As a long time Boston Bruins fan myself, I can tell you it’s no fun when your team misses the playoffs.

Some argue that both the Kings and the Bruins fell pray to the increasing parity in the league. It certainly seems there are more high-caliber teams now than ever before.

Others suggest the grind of being a successful hockey team year in and year out also played a role. The reality is that playing deep into the playoffs year after year can take a toll on a team. Perhaps both teams were simply tired.

But the real issue to me seems more to do with the relationship between the two coaches and their players. More specifically, whether the coaches had lost the loyalty of their players.

That certainly seems to be the case with Sutter. Over the last two weeks, the strained relationship between Sutter and his players boiled over when, following a defeat on the road, the players locked their coach out of the locker room. Reportedly, the players were simply uninterested in hearing another series of lectures and tirades from Sutter. As the story goes, when Sutter was finally able to unlock the door, he was met with three heavy waste receptacles. They served as a barricade to what was an empty locker room. All his players fled.

It’s a pretty dramatic action. Imagine if you showed up to work and the people you lead locked you out of your building? That would get noticed.

Nothing quite as dramatic took place with Julien and his Bruins, but sports analysts have questioned whether the players have tuned out their coach or the players simply stopped going to battle for Julien. After eight years of being the Bruins’ coach, it appears the players have grown tired of their leader.

To me these two stories have a lesson for all of us in leadership roles. Your success as a leader is often based on the loyalty of those that you lead.

I’ve seen it many times from the leaders I have worked with. The truly great ones generate an extremely strong loyalty. You see it and feel it when you talk to their people. They’ll say things like, “I’d go to the wall for her,” or “I’d put my life on the line for him”. These leaders leverage this loyalty to drive exceptional performance.

I can also tell when this kind of loyalty is lacking. People show up, do their jobs, but not with the same level of commitment to their leader or even to one another.

The success that Sutter and Julien have experienced over the last few years was due to a high level of loyalty from players. Yet their stories suggest, this isn’t something that lasts forever. As leaders, you can’t take it for granted. It’s something that requires constant attention and effort.

This week’s gut check asks: have the people you lead stopped going to battle for you?


About the Author

Vince Molinaro

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.

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