A recent article on the Chicago Blackhawks highlighted star player and team captain Jonathan Toews. In the last seven years, Toews has captained a winning locker room, with five trips for the Blackhawks to the Western Conference Finals and two Stanley Cup Championships under his leadership.blackhawkschamps-bruce-bennet-jpg

“I think some people maybe have some qualities that are innate to a certain degree,” Toews, nicknamed “Capt. Serious,” said the other day as the Hawks prepared to face the Anaheim Ducks in the conference finals.

“But I don’t think some things can’t be learned. It’s all in your habits. It’s all on how you carry yourself on a day-to-day basis. It’s a huge reason why we have some really solid leaders in this room, guys that want to win, do what they have to do to win every single day. That translates throughout the locker room.”

Toews’ statement got me thinking about the differences in leadership styles and how – regardless of style – some things translate from the locker room to the boardroom to build a winning team.

Get Out From Behind Your Desk

Many CEOs govern seated firmly on comfortable chairs behind a big shiny desk while issuing orders. Like Toews though, the most successful CEOs take a boots on the ground approach to providing leadership to their teams.

The best way to know what’s happening on the field and with your team is to actually be there. And this applies to leaders at all levels of the organization, starting from the top. Leadership is about finding the most effective route to the goal line, and that means giving your team a chance to experience, hands-on, what is really happening so they can learn to quickly analyze situations and come up with solutions.

Instead of taking an approach-based, one-size-fits-all approach to reassignment, cost containment, relocation policies or any other business challenge, make those decisions informed by real-life experiences.

Know Your Customer

Your customer isn’t always the company’s customer. Sometimes it’s the people you have to inspire and empower in order to inspire and empower them to improve the customer’s experience.

One of Toews’ teammates, Andrew Desjardins, relates how Toews made sure he was welcomed into the locker room after he was traded from the San Jose Sharks late in the season.

“He’s been good to me,” Desjardins said. “The first, second day (here), he’s asking me questions about myself, my family, really trying to get to know me. I think that goes a long way. It makes you feel comfortable. And then you feel comfortable asking him back and forth. I think just little things like that make you feel comfortable and part of the group. It’s not one of those things where he feels he has to (reach out). I think he genuinely cares and wants to help you.”

Toews teammates realize he cares about them as more than chess pieces on the ice. As captain, he wants to understand them as the whole person who becomes a Blackhawk, not just their game stats.

Truly great leaders pay less attention to number charts, statistics, financial reports etc, and look past all that to get to the heart of what builds customer loyalty and passion for a brand. And whenever you look at a brand that is loved by consumers, you find a company that is loved by employees. Leading to serve the right “customer” will put your company on the path to success.

Choose Your Priorities

Part of the secret to Toews success is that he likes to address team challenges on, and off the ice. He’s also selective about focusing on the issues he feels affect the team’s attitude and their play.

It’s no secret that the key to successful planning is to create a list of priorities and focus only on checking them off. As each list of priorities is accomplished, you can move forward to tackle other goals using the same method.

But there are only so many priorities you can effectively tackle at any one time. Often an aggressive CEO or manager will create a list of priorities that demands more than their team is capable of. This usually ends badly. Worse, it leaves a sense of failure and lack of accomplishment that goes on to taint the next project.

Being over-ambitious or moving on to another goal before accomplishing the mission at hand will affect team morale and performance and stunt the overall success rate. A smart leader will understand what is realistic to accomplish and how much to demand from their team.

Whether you’re aiming for the Stanley Cup or for a blockbuster next quarter, getting your boots on the ground, understanding your customer, and choosing priorities carefully are three ways successful leaders and their teams win.

What key elements would you consider essential to successful leadership? Please let me know in the comments below. And if you liked this article, please share it.