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Champion Leadership Tip #16 – Tips from Herb Brooks, the Man Who Led The 1980 Miracle On Ice

I would be remiss if I did not dedicate my Champion Leadership Tip today, the 30th Anniversary of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team’s win over the Soviet Union hockey at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics, to the team’s coach, the late Herb Brooks.

Brooks’ team pulled off what may have been the greatest upset in the history of international sports, bringing together a group of elite college hockey players, average age of 22 years old to the ultimate victory over the most elite hockey teams in the world, including the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Finland.

In a time much different than today when the professionals of the National Hockey League compete for their home countries in the Olympic Tournament, Brooks took his college students on a six month world tour to prepare for the 1980 Lake Placid games.

I think there are three leadership lessons to take away from Brooks’ approach thirty years ago. One is that success is about preparation and you can never prepare enough, the second is about creating and communicating a compelling vision and future, and the third is that leaders have to know and show through their behavior that its about those they lead and not themselves.

As the players reflected on their accomplishment after 30 years, most said Brooks was a madman when it came to conditioning. Every player on the team believed they were better conditioned than any team in the tournament. This played out with the team outscoring its opposition 16-3 in third periods.

Mark Johnson, the team’s leading scorer and head coach of the U.S. Women’s Hockey team in Vancouver this week, said that Brooks “had a vision and he sold it to us.”

Team captain Mike Eruzione was quoted as saying that over the six months of preparation as hard as Brooks drove them, the team the Gold Medal Championship ring for the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team “came to trust that the decisions he made and things he asked of us he was doing for us.”

So, they followed. And, they gave their all. And, they came out as Gold Medal Champions.

When the final seconds ticked off the clock and scoreboard for the Gold Medal game read USA 4, Finland 2, the USA players celebrated all over the ice as Brooks walked off the bench to the team’s locker room. Brooks knew that the victory was for them, not him.

That’s what great leaders do! Are you showing your team that their success is all about them?

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