Did Gretzky lie to me?

It was the summer of 2001. Team Canada’s Olympic training camp began in Ottawa at Ottawa U.  A who’s who of media types were on hand including yours truly (who was not part of the who’s who club!).

I took a seat in the front row of the press room like a kid looking forward to the first day of school.  I was going to get straight A’s this year!  Honor roll here I come!  This one was going on my demo tape!

The Team Canada Olympic Team brass entered the room and made their way to the stage and after a brief review of press conference instructions from the media rep, the floor was opened for questions and, like everyone else in the room, I raised my hand.

As luck would have it, I was selected first. I had a great question for Team Canada Executive Director, Wayne Gretzky.  I was going to set the tone! With one question I was going to trigger an in-depth, thought provoking, life changing, symbiotic dialogue between The Great One (TGO) and Kenneth Russell Joseph Simon Maurice Evraire Jr. (KRJSMAJ)! A question that would lead to a lifelong friendship. He would call me by my nickname (Cowboy) and I would call him Gretzk or Wayner!  All because I had a question that no one in the room would have thought of but would all would go on to poach for their stories.

Boy, was I wrong! On all counts!

I asked, “With a roster filled with star players, the worlds best, will it be difficult for some of them to adjust to 3rd line and 4th line roles and less ice time?”.

He pondered my question for a millisecond then responded, “No, they are the best players in the world and if they can’t adjust, they wouldn’t be here.”

Ta-da!  There it was.  Short and sweet.  Nothing more, nothing less!

The media relations guy took the mic from me and gave me a look that reminded me of the Soup Nazi character in the series Seinfeld. “No more questions for you!”.  I could almost hear the rest of the media throng mumbling “what an idiot!”.  Back to media 101 summer school for me!

All I could do was sit there and pretend I was completely intrigued with all of the other questions and answers shared during the presser, when in truth, I just wanted to get the heck out of there!  Time just seemed to slow down!  I was pissed. I was pissed because, one, I thought I had a great question,  two, I thought it warranted a longer answer and three, I thought..no wait, I knew The Great One was wrong!  I had been in a room filled with pro athletes before.  Adaptation and the ability to change is key to any success.

My football instincts were telling me to crack back block the crap out of WAYNER when he left the stage. (Wayner…what a dumb-ass nickname!). Yep, the solution was to just ear-hole his hockey playing, Jofa helmet wearing, frosted hair tips attitude then and there.  Dave Semenko isn’t around to protect you now pal! Call Mark Messier and I will call Darren Joseph.  Shout out to Marty McSorley, I will make a toll-free call to Glenn Kulka!

If you google search “football player ear-holes the greatest hockey player ever” you won’t find anything because after taking a couple of deep breaths, I chose to take the high road and keep my emotions in check.  Why? Because I knew I was right.  Talent doesn’t always win out. The ability to adapt does.

It took some time (approx. 6 months)  but I was eventually proven right.

On February 18, 2002, Gretzky lashed out at the media at a press conference, frustrated with media and fan comments regarding his team’s uninspiring 1–1–1 start in pre-Olympic Games exhibition play.  He would go on to say his rant was designed to protect his team as they adjusted and worked to become a gold medal winning team.

I jest when saying The Great One lied to me but the fact of the matter is, any roster including a team made up of the world’s greatest players, needs time to adjust to new roles.  Head Coach Pat Quinn had to find those players within this all-star roster willing to change their game.  He had to find a new set of strengths within a number of players that would translate into success.  As good as the players were, Quinn and his staff had to do some serious coaching. Team Canada didn’t just show up and dominate.  They had to earn their title of Olympic Champion the hard way.  I think that is part of the reason why the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games gold medal meant so much to so many and continues to, to this day.

Every team will need to adjust….it’s inevitable. This truth applies to sports teams, small businesses all the way through to Fortune 500 companies.

When watching a best of 7 playoff series be it in hockey, basketball, baseball etc, the ability to overcome the physical challenges combined with being able to counter punch from a strategic perspective is everything.  The margin for error is far greater in the playoffs versus a regular season game because the teams see each other every second night.  The differences between the teams become so finite thanks to the in-depth understanding of the opposition.  The same applies to the business sector. Everyone is competing for their piece of the pie.  The tide can turn at any time. Being able to adapt is key.

No matter how talented your team is, the need to adapt and overcome, the need to expect and accept evolving roles in a bid to succeed as a team is all part of the experience.

Coach Up!

Ken Evraire is an award-winning leadership coach and team builder. As a former professional athlete, he has learned from great coaches and learned even more from the bad ones! When not coaching up, he is busy producing documentaries and chasing his 3 precocious children! 

To contact Ken email him at ken@kenevraire.com.

To learn more about Ken, visit his website www.ken
evraire.com
or visit him Facebook https://www.facebook.com/kenevrairedotcom/ or on twitter https://twitter.com/kevraire17

Popsicle Moments Make Teams!

I recently posted an invitation to leaders from all walks to consider kenevraire.com as a team building reward or maybe a kick-start for their team. One reader made this comment…

I have to disagree. Unless the reward is further education or training. Rewards are earned based on performance. If your employees are not provided with the tools, training and, education to be able to perform better, then your rewards program is going to fail.

So I replied with the following…

Thank you for your comment. I agree that further education and training is a great reward in a bid to elevate individual competencies but from a team perspective, the focus should be on “group” growth. I remember practising with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on what felt like the hottest day of summer. Guys were competing on the field for more playing time, for a greater role within the game plan but the turning point of practice and perhaps the season came when the coach stopped practice and opened up coolers filled with popsicles. Yes, it was only frozen sugared water on a stick but it brought the team together. The coach didn’t have to do it, but in one small gesture, he rallied the team and made the entire professional football experience quite “personal”. I remember sitting down with teammates from Tampa FL, Compton CA, Rochester NY, Winnipeg MB, Toronto On, and other places throughout North America, relaxing during what was a shared experience. Thanks to moments like the popsicle break, I was willing to go through the wall for them because I cared about them. I was going to show up early for work stay late and find a way to succeed because I knew they would do the same.

This morning, I woke up feeling compelled to expand on my position.

The cool, trendy thing in corporate culture today is the celebration of “the team”.  Truth is since the 70’s, business leaders have come to the realization that decision making should not be reserved for a few. Decision making was not the providence of a couple of voices in window view offices on the top floor. The expectation that the rest of the company as a whole should follow faithfully without a say, had begun to change. The value of input, the value of acknowledging that there is indeed an “I” in team – the invested, inspired, initiative-taking individual was a turning point.

Today companies have foosball tables, in-house daycare, open concept layouts etc. all in a bid to inspire and connect the human spirit found within the team.

Back to that hot July day in Hamilton.

I remember the team struggling and guys were not in a great mood. We had to bus up to a high school field located on the escarpment in Hamilton which was a pain the gluteus maximus.

As per life in the Canadian Football League, there were a couple of new faces competing for jobs, unhappy veterans who felt they were not getting their playing time, upstart players who wanted more playing time. Everyone was competing for a paycheck. The pressure was enormous but the fact is, it was just another Tuesday for us! It was just another regular day filled with competition.

The special part of the experience was the unspoken understanding that each man, though uber competitive and fighting for a job, would do all he could to help the team win. No one man was greater than the team and its goals. It was about the team for the star players, for the back-ups and for the practice roster players.

Yet, how do get a group of high testosterone, high energy individuals to buy in?

The coach could share an inspirational pre-practice or pre-game speech and some guys would buy in and some wouldn’t. Some players tune out and some tune in! Yes, we get that we have to play hard, play smart and do all we could to win. We have been hearing that speech since our days playing kids football.

I have not heard a pre-game speech that could ever rival the popsicle break as a source of inspiration.

As mentioned, mid-practice saw an unscheduled time out. We wanted to get the practice over with but Coach John Gregory called us to the centre of the field. That’s when he told us to relax, not press too hard and that there was a lot of football to be played. Then he motioned to the training staff to bring out coolers filled with popsicles!

In the blink of an eye, the entire energy surrounding the team had changed.  Everyone found shade, everyone shared and everyone cared.

I laughed out loud at jokes shared between Lonzell “Mo” Hill (2nd Rd. draft pick of the New Orleans Saints), Wally Zatylny (fellow CIS All-Canadian from Bishops University), Richard Nurse (Hamilton boy who went to Canisius College) and Scott Walker (from Lenoir-Rhyne College Bears – Hickory, North Carolina).

I learned that LB Terry Wright (Temple University Owls) and I shared birthdays (July 17th), I watched John Motton (LB – University of Akron Zips) do an impression of DL Mike Jones (Brockport State Golden Eagles) watching plays on the Jumbotron in the Skydome while the defensive huddle moved downfield away from him. At one time, the Toronto Argonauts complained to the refs about his being too close to their huddle. They thought that he was trying to listen to their plays! From that moment on, Mike was known as Jumbotron!

Getting to know your teammates on a personal level is key to any team’s success. It is the foundation for success.

The “popsicle” moments make a team. The “popsicle” moments get the team through the tough times.

I can barely remember the scores of games but I can tell you that RB Archie Amerson (Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks) was the toughest player, pound for pound, I have ever seen on the football field. I can tell you that no one understood half the things WR Tony Champion (Tennessee-Martin University Skyhawks) said and that no one will ever forget any of WR Earl Winfield (North Carolina Tar Heels) stories, including the one about fellow UNC alumni member Michael Jordan giving Earl a pair of NBA rookie season Air Jordan shoes and how Earl decided to wear them when he went out to cut the grass!

I will never forget LB Tony Visco (Purdue Boilermakers), knowing he wasn’t going to make the team, calling his own number to blitz every play during a pre-season game, which pissed off defensive coordinator Joe Moss to no end. Who could forget watching game film in the dark and hearing Coach Moss’ dog (half-blind poodle named Sam), bumping into the furniture?

Spitball fights, nailing teammates shoes to their locker rooms, a father and son walking into a bathroom at a player autograph signing event to see C Dale Sanderson (University of Tennessee Volunteers) with no shirt on and Wally Zatylny, also with no shirt on, applying temporary tattoos to each other in advance of heading out to Tailgate Charlies for a few beers with teammates!

I love my teammates. I was willing to pay the price asked of football players because of how I felt about my teammates. Not because of a great pre-game speech!

When I left football I brought popsicle moments to other teams I was a part of, be it the news team at The New RO and A-Channel, the Ottawa Invaders or mu family!

Popsicle moments will make better teams.

Ken Evraire is an award-winning leadership coach and team builder. As a former professional athlete, he has learned from great coaches and learned even more from the bad ones!

To contact Ken email him at ken@kenevraire.com.

To learn more about Ken, visit his website www.ken
evraire.com
or visit him Facebook https://www.facebook.com/kenevrairedotcom/ or on twitter https://twitter.com/kevraire17

 

Thank you Ottawa 67’s AAA Minor Bantams – CHAMPIONS!

There are many moments when I am amazed at the transformation a team can experience by simply buying in. I have seen it in the boardroom. I have seen it in career transition seminars.

And now I have seen it in the Ottawa 67’s AAA Minor Bantam hockey team. Now, getting a room full of teenage boys to focus for any length of time can be challenging, to say the least, but this team was destined for great things!

Head Coach Jim Cooke gets it! He understands the value of building the team and he understands that bringing a new voice to the locker room was the key. I signed on for 5 sessions, scheduled through the season. They were a very good team that could become great with a little help.

I spoke to them about incremental growth, focus, the finite difference between winning and losing and the knowledge that it isn’t about their opponent but rather, it was all about them and what they do. They would reap what they sow…guaranteed!

Tonight, they face the best team in the league in a do or die playoff game that will reward the winners with a trip to the semi-finals. The losing team would be done for the year.

Like the Grey Cup Champion Ottawa REDBLACKS, the 67’s had an up and down regular season.

The REDBLACKS were underdogs going into the championship game against a Calgary Stampeder’s team that went 16-2 during regular season play.  But they prevailed. Here is a link featuring the day before the championship game clips. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWMqKHSN7lo&t=65s

The focus was on the REDBLACKS being a team that had overcome challenges during the season and were battle tested, unlike the Stampeders. I asked them about the Stampeders not being punched in the face all season (literally and figuratively). They had not faced adversity like the REDBLACKS.  Talk about a fun study of quiet confidence in an athlete and a team!

The 67’s had 6 games left in the regular season. I showed them this video and I challenged them to go 5-1 and become the most dangerous team heading into the playoffs. I wanted them to become the team that no one wanted to play.  They re-focused, promised an incremental improvement in their individual game that would benefit the team and guess what. They went 5-1 over their final 6 games.

They eliminated the Ottawa Senators AAA in semi-final play and then overcame the Ottawa Valley Titans to win the title.

Congrats to the boys and the coaching staff on a job well done!

Ken Evraire is an award-winning leadership coach and team builder. As a former professional athlete, he has learned from great coaches and learned even more from the bad ones!

To contact Ken email him at ken@kenevraire.com.

To learn more about Ken, visit his website www.ken
evraire.com
or visit him Facebook https://www.facebook.com/kenevrairedotcom/ or on twitter https://twitter.com/kevraire17

Thank You Team Diabetes

Thank you to the Team Diabetes fundraising team for asking me to speak at their launch party. As a veteran Team Diabetes marathon runner (Honolulu 2x and Barcelona), I see the life-changing impact this great initiative can have on others.

I run for my mom…I run with pride. It’s the most important jersey I have ever worn!

Ken Evraire is an award-winning leadership coach and team builder. As a former professional athlete, he has learned from great coaches and learned even more from the bad ones!

To contact Ken email him at ken@kenevraire.com.

To learn more about Ken, visit his website www.ken
evraire.com
or visit him Facebook https://www.facebook.com/kenevrairedotcom/ or on twitter https://twitter.com/kevraire17

 

Leadership is not easy! Ta-da…the secret is out!

Let me state the obvious. Leadership is not easy.

Never has been…never will be. There will be days when the last thing you may want to do

is lead! There will be times when you want to just sit in the back of the bus and watch the street blocks go by!

It’s a natural response when you take on a role of leadership. As invincible as you may think you need to be, yes, there will be days when the last thing you ever want to do is stand in front of the band as it makes its way down the parade route!

“Let them lead themselves! They don’t listen to me half the time anyway!”

When that moment of hesitation or doubt arrives, stand in front of the mirror, look at yourself and ask one question and one question only.

“Did you expect this to be easy?”

If you answer yes, then you need to re-visit why you have taken on the responsibility of leading others. If you answer no, then a great opportunity to raise your team’s game is at hand!

First and foremost, it’s not your job to make the team succeed, it’s your job to put the team in a position to succeed. One man or woman does not make a team but a leader that continues to search for growth opportunities within his/herself and the team does!

“High-risk leadership beckons many, but few accept the call. Apollo 13 succeeded at critical moments like this because the bosses had no hesitation about assigning crucial tasks to one individual, trusting his judgment, and then getting out of his way.” Apollo 13 Flight Director Gene Kranz

Leading others is a great responsibility. It’s personal. It requires someone who is special and is led by the single-minded desire to see other’s succeed. It requires someone who recognizes the day to day investment and sacrifices his team makes.

Think about it…when someone punches the clock for a total of 40 hours a week, that is half of their week minus sleeping.  Yes, one could argue that the company has an investment in them and they should just do their jobs, but do not lose sight of the fact that the employee has also invested in the company and the investment they make in terms of effort, focus, going the extra mile will reflect the type of leadership they receive, good, bad or indifferent.

Hiring someone or someone accepting a job offer is a professional decision influenced by a series of personal circumstances, unique to each company and individual.

Great leadership equals buy in…bad leadership equals buy-out!

Leadership is not about one person sitting atop the mountain enjoying providence over all as it was in pre-70’s business world, but rather an open journey that is built on a foundation of trust, patience, communication and respect.

Self-correction is key to leadership success. Without it, you will fall into the trap of simply repeating the same mistakes!

When it comes to leadership, there is never the “hit a walk-off home run and win the game” moment. You may hit a home run but there is always another game, another plate appearance and an opportunity to either hit a home run or strike out.

It doesn’t matter if you lead a team of 500 or a team of 5!  Leadership is a tenuous journey.

“Leadership is fragile. It is more a matter of mind and heart than resources, and it seemed that we no longer had the heart for those things that demanded discipline, commitment, and risk.” – Gene Kranz – NASA Flight Director.

Don’t be afraid to look in the mirror and remind yourself that it’s not supposed to be easy…but anything of value worth fighting for never is.

Ken Evraire is an award-winning leadership coach and team builder. As a former professional athlete, he has learned a from great coaches and learned even more from the bad ones!

To contact Ken email him at ken@kenevraire.com.

To learn more about Ken, visit his website www.ken
evraire.com
or visit him Facebook https://www.facebook.com/kenevrairedotcom/ or on twitter https://twitter.com/kevraire17

Tomato or Tamata? Know your team!

 

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit…wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad!”. 

What a great line! You never know when you are going to find a pearl. Case in point with this line. I found it in a Steve Berry authored book titled “The 14th Colony”.  Thank you!

If you are responsible for leading a team this quote should resonate deeply within you because it is the cardinal rule of all cardinal rules when it comes to setting up others to succeed.

Knowing your team…understanding your team’s individual and cumulative skill set is always the first step. Do you have a roomful of tomato’s, apples, apples or rutabagas? The odds are you have a veritable mix and if you fail to acknowledge the exact make-up of your team you are destined to fail because somewhere along the way you are going to ask a tomato to do something that a potato does quite well.

Oversimplified? Certainly but it is the most common flaw of leadership.

How can you build anything without looking around and asking if you have the ingredients, components, pieces, tools etc.? It doesn’t matter if you are building a team, a cake, an airplane or one of those uber complicated IKEA closets.

So, why do so many leaders get it wrong coming out of the gate?

They have the best of intentions and they certainly want to succeed but getting locked and loaded on one way of accomplishing goals is the fatal flaw. The ability to adapt is everything.

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have won appeared in 9 Super Bowls and won 5 (to the shagrin of all non-Patriot football fans)!

They are known for doing things the “the Patriot way”. The Patriot way is the unwavering understanding that adapting to all challenges and doing all you can to put your players in a position to succeed is key. They won’t always succeed but more often than naught..they won’t fail. No one player is the hero every Sunday afternoon. Week in, week out, they find ways to win with different chess pieces on the board. As soon as you think you have the Patriots figured out…they adjust and offer a new challenge to the opposition. They dictate terms and the ability to do so hinges on the knowing what every player can do and cannot do.

So, why hasn’t every team simply copied the Patriots? It’s because the Patriot way requires patience, perseverance, precision and the willingness to make the tough decision. Its a long haul and many teams need to win today which forces their hand. Patience is not a commodity they own.

The Patriots are always in a position to manage the inevitable, difficult times with clarity, with patience and precision. The bar of competency is never lowered! If a player is injured, traded or retires the adaptation begins. They do not rebuild…they re-load.

As a team builder and movie buff, I am always looking for storylines that inspire.

The movie “Apollo 13” ranks among my top choices. Plenty of very smart people want to work at NASA…very few people actually get to work there because NASA wants a specific type of smart.

They don’t only want people who can help get a 45,931kg rocket to the moon and back but rather a team that can get a flight crew back when the 45,931kg rocket craps out which it did for the Apollo 13 crew.

Apollo 13 Flight Director Gene Krantz discussed one of the crucial issues they had to overcome after an explosion on the ship forced the flight crew from the command module into the landing module which was not designed to carry the crew around the moon and back to earth. Somehow they had to re-build a filter that would save the lives of astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert.

“The trouble was the square lithium hydroxide canisters from the CM (command module) would not fit the round openings of those in the LM (landing module) environmental system. After a day and a half in the LM a warning light showed us that the carbon dioxide had built up to a dangerous level, but the ground was ready. They had thought up a way to attach a CM canister to the LM system by using plastic bags, cardboard, and tape- all materials we had on board. Jack Swigert and I put it together: just like building a model airplane. The contraption wasn’t very handsome, but it worked. It was a great improvisation- and a fine example of cooperation between ground and space.”

The only way a team can enjoy success is for leadership to know what each team member can do individually, incorporate their skill set into the team and then ask to savor the ask of performing at a high level of competency.

So, to get somewhere, get to know your team! Getting off on the right foot is challenging and rewarding. Getting off on the wrong foot is easy and consumes time and energy. For every step in the wrong direction, there are 2 steps backward to make up for getting lost.

Ken Evraire is an award winning presenter, team builder and coach. As a former professional athlete, he has learned a from great coaches…learned even more from his bad coaches!

To learn more about Ken, visit his website www.kenevraire.com or visit him Facebook https://www.facebook.com/kenevrairedotcom/ or on twitter https://twitter.com/kevraire17