Jamie McLennan played 11 seasons in the NHL with six different teams from 1993-94 to 2006-07. The bright lights of the arena have since been replaced by those at TSN’s studios, where he has gained a national following as an analyst/commentator and co-host of OverDrive, a popular radio show. In 2013 he released his biography titled Best Seat in the House which highlighted his good fortune of having played the game he loves professionally, and the life experiences it has afforded him.
McLennan is one of a small group of people on the planet, talented and skilled enough to play in the top flight of their sport. Therefore, he is uniquely qualified to discuss leadership and teamwork as it relates to hockey. However, he is also acutely aware of how these traits translate to the “real world”.
Bridgit: As a goaltender, you have been in every situation in your career, a starter, a backup and platooning (sharing duty). When someone is competing for the same role as you, how do you avoid letting that situation deteriorate from friendly competition to becoming corrosive?
JM: You use healthy competition to make you better, it drives you. For example, in sport, you are not sitting there wishing bad things on the person you are competing with because ultimately it hurts the team and it hurts you as part of that team. If that person is playing well, it forces you to raise your bar. Healthy competition allows you to take a good hard look at yourself.
Not everyone has the ability to park that competition, I don’t think there is anybody that openly cheers against a teammate, but you certainly know that person is using a misstep as an opportunity to sway the situation in their direction. Everyone handles it differently. Have I have seen positive examples? Absolutely. Have I seen negatives? Yes, I have as well.
Bridgit: Your direct manager in hockey is the head coach. Reflecting on playing for six different NHL teams plus overseas, was there a common thread in how they got the best from you?
JM: When I look back on the style of some of the best coaches I’ve ever had, I would say honesty, sometimes brutal honesty. I look at guys like Darryl Sutter who would tell you like it is. The thing I always struggled with was the sugar coating and not being told where you stand, that was a problem when you get somebody saying one thing and doing the other, it confuses an athlete, it confuses a worker.
I’ve always appreciated honesty with respect. Joel Quenneville was a master at that, also Al Arbour and Jacques Lemaire. I was lucky to have some really amazing Hall of Fame coaches that had that trait – they could deliver the news good or bad, with a level of respect but also some honesty that could bite.
Bridgit: Building on that, what separated good teams from bad in terms of overall management culture?
JM: When it comes to sports, nothing replaces, for the most part – the best teams comprised of the best players. With that said, the strongest organizations I have ever been a part of, the leadership at the top trickled down and I think you see that in business. If you hear of bad organizations, chances are, the people at the top are not quality.
You can also have a quality organization but have a team that is in transition or a poor team – The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings are examples; they were once on top but are now working their way back up. The players and the employees know how good the organization is and they take pride in where they are. You can tell a good organization or poor organization not only in the way it’s run but by the way they treat their workers.
Bridgit: In hockey, there are clearly defined leaders on the ice and in the dressing room, captains and alternates are identifiable because of a “C” or “A” sewn into their jersey, is this largely symbolic? What can be said about secondary leadership and how it can benefit a team?
JM: There is a reason in sports why somebody has a letter or a defined role as a leader. However, the strongest teams and strongest organizations have secondary leaders that don’t need a letter on their jersey. They don’t have just one person trying to drag the team or organization along, it comes with teamwork and everyone knowing their role.
There may be guys that have higher profiles within that leadership core but others, with perhaps slightly lower expectations as far as on-ice production, still have a major impact on the overall group.
You can tell a good organization or poor organization not only in the way it’s run but by the way they treat their workers.
– Jamie McLennan
That’s where a guy like me, who was a backup goaltender, or a sixth or seventh defenceman can become valuable in different settings – like bringing the team together.
Bridgit: The days of a player like Steve Yzerman spending an entire career with one team are pretty much over.
To an extent, it could still happen with star players like Sidney Crosby, but for everyone else in the league, they can expect to be on several teams by the time their career is done, so in a sense, it mirrors what is going on with the traditional job sector where the only constant, is change.
What tactics worked for you to make it through times when you knew you might not be with a team for very long or that your role was being diminished?
JM: It comes back to your training as an athlete where you have to be focused on the short-term, you can’t always be looking ahead. For everyone else, except for those rare stars, you can expect a change in venue just because of the situation of the organization.
What you value, what you are looking for changes as well. I would have been mired in frustration if I worried about staying with the Minnesota Wild for the rest of my career the one season I played there (2000-2001) when we were a losing team that was new in the league. Ultimately, I was just worried about my career and wherever it would take me.
You give your all for the team, but It really comes back to having a small focus, whether it’s week-to-week or month-to-month. Your body of work will suffer if you are always looking forward or backward, you have to live in the now in a lot of these instances or you will drive yourself nuts.