Lessons on Leadership and Coaching from Mike Babcock

by Elias Rassi | Posted | Leadership

Lessons on Leadership and Coaching from Mike Babcock

I realize we don’t often cover sports-related topics on the Halogen TalentSpace blog (maybe we should?)

But, there are some great lessons business leaders can learn from the world of sports. For example, how do some of the world’s most successful franchises develop their winning culture? How do they identify, acquire, and retain top talent – from executives to players?

This brings us to today – the start of the National Hockey League season. And while hockey may not be a sport you follow closely, you don’t need to know the intricacies of the game to understand the impact of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ most high-profile recruit in recent years. No, I’m not talking about a superstar player.

I’m talking about the team’s new coach.

Mike Babcock was named the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs this past spring. Babcock signed an eight-year, $50-million dollar contract, making him the highest paid head coach in the history of the NHL.

The hype and interest surrounding Babckock’s decision to leave the Detroit Red Wings, where he had spent the previous 10 years as the team’s head coach with tremendous success, was reminiscent of LeBron James’ decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for Miami.

So, what was the big deal?

Babcock is a leader who knows how to inspire the teams he leads to success.  

Here’s what business leaders can learn from Mike Babcock’s leadership approach.

Hire the right talent and support them with ongoing development

“You win with good people.” – Babcock on Sportsnet

Babcock said that one of the things he’s most proud of during his time as a member of the Red Wings is how the organization developed people. And if you were to listen to Babcock explain how this was possible, you will often hear him explain it starts at the top with team owner, Mike Illitch.

The vision is clear – Success is a process and it’s done “The Red Wing Way.” It includes consistently drafting the right players, allowing that talent to develop, and supporting players with management and leadership who have bought in to the organization’s culture.

For any organization to achieve its vision and to have long term success, it must have a plan on how to recruit, develop, and nurture top talent. Above all else, senior executives must hold other leaders accountable for coaching and developing employees and sticking to the plan.

Building this winning culture for the Red Wings didn’t happen overnight. The process began Mike Illitch bought the Detroit Red Wings in 1982. To get to the point where the organization is today, with the possibility of earning a playoff berth for the 25th consecutive season, is a process three decades in the making.

Know your people and coach them as individuals

“There are 23 guys on your team and you have to coach them 23 different ways.” – Babcock in Maclean’s

Shortly after he was hired, Babcock was asked about what he thought about the group of players he has in Toronto. He didn’t have an answer. Why? Because he had yet to have the chance to get to know them as people, about what motivates them, what drives them, and what makes them tick.

It might have been the safe answer, sure. But I think it provides insight on Babcock’s skill as a people manager. Organizations can support its leaders and replicate the conditions of high performance by providing training on how to coach individuals.

Investing in leadership development is worth every penny. Bersin by Deloitte reports organizations with excellent cultural support for coaching had a 75 percent higher rating for talent management results than those with little or no support for coaching. These organizations also had 13 percent stronger business results and 39 percent stronger employee results.

Learning how to be a great people manager will support your leaders as they work towards keeping employees challenged, growing, and engaged.

The final buzzer

I believe there are two main reasons for all of the excitement surrounding Mike Babcock: He is arguably the best coach in the game today and he is coming from a culture in Detroit that is the model for talent development.

Shortly after being hired, Babcock repeatedly said he doesn’t just want the Maple Leafs to make the playoffs – he wants to change the culture. He wants to develop “a Cup process” of being surrounded by quality people, talent development, and leadership and coaching.

In other words, Babcock is invested in his role as a leader.

“I never came here to make the playoffs,” Babcock said in this NHL.com article. “I came here to be involved in a [Stanley] Cup process and that goes from scouting, from drafting, from development, from analytics, from putting an off-ice team and on-ice team together. I love to win. I have a burning desire to win. But I also want to win in the end. I don't just want to get in the playoffs; I want to win.”

Game on.

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