Arizona hockey legend Shane Doan knows a thing or two about being a leader. He was the longest serving captain in the National Hockey League (NHL) until his retirement in the summer of 2017. Overall, his career spanned across 21 seasons that were all spent with the Winnipeg Jets/Arizona Coyotes organization. In addition to his NHL career, Doan played for his home country of Canada in international play. His accomplishments include being a member of the 2006 Winter Olympic team and winning a world cup championship in 2004. Doan recently joined the NHL and works closely with Senior Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell to share his perspective as a player who is fresh off the ice. Doan was kind enough to stop by the Ziegler Fiesta Bowl Museum and discuss his experiences as a leader and share advice he would give to business leaders or anyone else who is aspiring to assume that role.
Doan began his speech by reflecting on the first leadership figures he had while playing in the NHL. His first one was a man named Kris King, who he says was not the best player on the team and was average at best. Despite not being the best player, King earned the respect of his teammates by always having everyone’s backs and defending each player on the team equally to the utmost.
The next leadership figure Doan had was Keith Tkachuk. Doan was admittedly intimidated by Tkachuk, and for good reason. Tkachuk had a reputation in the locker room as a tough guy who was openly critical of his teammates. Doan and others on the team feared Tkachuk but they all had a great level of reverence for him because he genuinely cared about every single one of his teammates. Doan says he was the type of guy that would give the shirt off his back for anyone on his team without hesitation.
The final leadership figure Doan discussed was Teppo Numminen. Doan described Numminen as positive and sarcastic. He was the type of player that did everything right on the ice. He played through pain, blocked shots, and did all of the little things that go into winning hockey games that never show up on the highlights. He earned the respect of his teammates by setting an example.
The most important piece of advice Doan gives to people that asks him about leadership is that as leaders you have to be willing to serve everyone else and you have to put everyone ahead of your personal agenda. In a sport like hockey, one that is dominated by prideful “alpha males” because of the physical nature of the game, this can be an incredible difficult thing to do. Doan was hesitant to believe this notion but he soon realized the more willing you are to put others on your team first, the more willing they are to follow you. Doan believes this strategy works because it builds trust and your team knows that any decision you make is for the best interest of the group and not yourself. Doan stressed to the audience that this does not happen right away and it is something that must be developed over time.
Doan made the point that he had the ability to force decisions on his teammates because of his title as captain but he was aware that it would be much more difficult to accomplish long-term goals and sustain success with fear and dominance over respect and admiration.
Over the thirteen years he served as the Coyotes captain, Doan revealed the biggest takeaway he slowly learned over that time was that to be the best leader he could be, he had to be himself. As much as he admired King, Tkachuk, and Numminen he discovered that people can see through you if you are trying to exemplify someone else instead of being genuine.
At the end of the day, leadership is all about how willing someone is to follow you. Doan claims that you can read all of the books and say all of the right things, but if people do not believe that you are being the truest version of yourself, no one will follow you.
Doan finished his speech by reciting a saying that he believes should serve as a foundation for any leader, “If you do justly and you have mercy and walk humbly then you can accomplish anything that is put in front of you”. Doan says that if you are striving to be a leader then act upon these three pillars on a daily basis and it will give you the credibility that is needed to lead.