From the World’s Most Famous Arena – Madison Square Garden, to Maple Leaf Gardens, Mark Osborne had a chance to play for a few of the NHL’s marquee franchises.
During 14 seasons from 1981-82 to 1994-95, “Ozzie” as he is also known, evolved from beginning a scoring winger with the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers, to transforming into a shut-down defensive player later in his career with the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs.
After his playing career ended, Osborne held management positions in junior hockey, was president of the Toronto Maple Leafs Alumni Association and also an analyst for major media outlets including TSN and Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
Since 2015 he has been a professional scout for the LA Kings.
How has his concept of teamwork and leadership developed from the ice to the boardroom? Let’s find out….
Bridgit: When you began your career in Detroit, the team was a perennial loser, what struck you about the culture of teamwork within the dressing room and leadership from a management perspective, when you initially arrived?
MA: Coming to a team that was not doing very well was actually a great opportunity, I was immediately able to step in and play as an 18-year-old whereas if it was drafted by a winning team, especially in that era, you were going to spend time in the minors.
In the dressing room, there were great guys and they had a lot of fun but there wasn’t enough quality leadership to get us passed the mediocrity that the organization was in.
From a management perspective it was quite similar to how Harold Ballard was running the Toronto Maple Leafs during that period of time. It was an old ownership group that was disconnected, I’m not sure they had the needed leadership above the players to make the team successful.
In my second year, when Mr. (Mike) Ilitch bought the team in 1982, you could get a sense that things were going to change and change for the good.
Mr. Ilitch was successful with creating Little Caesars Pizza, and you don’t create success by chance.
Yeah, hockey is not pizza, but there is a correlation. You can run hockey like it’s a business, back then hockey wasn’t run like a business as it is today, but the same principals apply, like attention to detail, passion and communication.
When Jimmy Devellano was hired to be General Manager, he brought his reputation from working with a successful franchise in the New York Islanders (who had just won the Stanley Cup for the third consecutive time), that right away spoke volumes – the right people would be in the right places and they were very well respected.
Bridgit: Was the transition from a scoring role to a checking assignment gradual? What takes place in your mind when you know you are able to perform a task well, but asked to do something your coach sees value in, that you may not see for yourself?
MA: I was taught by my family that in order to achieve success as an individual, as a player or outside of the game in the workforce, that if you are asked to do a job, do it well, don’t grumble, don’t complain and do it to the best of your ability.
When I turned pro, my mindset was not necessarily being on a scoring line. I prided myself on working hard and going up and down my wing and being responsible defensively, that was already part of my DNA.
Being a part of scoring lines like the G.E.M. line in Toronto with Ed Olczyk and Gary Leeman or in New York with Mark Pavelich and Anders Hedberg, I always thought I was flexible enough that I could play any way. I could play with good offensive players or I could very easily, like I did toward the end of my career on a line with Peter Zezel and Bill Berg, slide back into a checking role. I loved it all.
Teams I played on with a relative amount of success such as the ’93 and ’94 Maple Leafs who went to the Conference Finals, have their go-to guys – like Dougie Gilmour and Wendel Clark, but also foot soldiers that are integral to the organization. You need to have different pieces.
Bridgit: After the NHL, you played your final pro seasons with the Cleveland Lumberjacks (IHL) and then became an assistant coach with the team. A parallel workforce scenario woud be that you were once part of a team and then promoted to manager of that group. How did you initially navigate that change?
MA: It was an adjustment going from playing with these guys to being an assistant coach but you also have to recognize that being an assistant coach at that level means that you are a buffer between the players and head coach.
The one thing to ensure is that your character doesn’t change and you shouldn’t abuse your power and authority.
Bridgit: You have also managed, scouted and were president of the Toronto Maple Leafs Alumni Association. What don’t players, or in a looser sense, the workers, know about the challenges in leading and/or assembling a team?
MA: If you have never been in management, don’t be so critical. You may have an idea of what they do and maybe look at it with a simplistic gaze. The truth of it is, you don’t have any idea how many layers there are to being a manager until you actually do it.
In hockey for example, a former player who thinks he can go in and be a coach or be an assistant coach, some have no idea the amount of time, effort and work required.
Bridgit: What is the best way to develop confidence in your ability to perform a role? As a manager how important is patience in allowing for that to take place before you give up on someone and move on?
MA: Keep it simple and don’t over complicate your role, don’t project and read into things. Sometimes people make the biggest mistakes in trying to over analyze and assume things, much like on the ice.
I like the expression – less is more. If you focus on doing things to the best of your ability and a few key areas, that will develop confidence. A lot of people try to spread themselves thin and can’t accomplish the task.
I thrived in being given a role, and when it was clearly defined, you could measure it in how well you were doing or not.
It’s different for each sector and layer of the company or workforce and what those roles are, but it’s incumbent on the manager to bring about confidence. This can be accomplished by being an encourager, one that always builds up, rather than being negative or using fear tactics, that doesn’t work for very long.