The Magic of the Magnetic Leader

by Shauna Richter

The Magic of the Magnetic Leader
Leadership lessons from the other side of the bench.

The Magic of the Magnetic Leader

Photo by: Kevin Tupman @kevintupman_sports
The last week of 2022, I had the pleasure of watching my son’s minor hockey team, work their way through the annual winter tournament. It was hockey in its purest and finest form. Each game was a nail-biter culminating in the dedicated fans counting down the last few seconds of the last game as the team won it all. Beyond an opportunity to watch my little twelve-year-old goalie play his heart out, this tournament was a study of magnetic leadership from start to finish—the leadership that builds a loyal following based on mutual respect and admiration.


First, a little background, our coaches are a group of friends in their early twenties who played minor hockey together, plus our head coach’s father, who used to coach our coaches in years past. No one has a child on the team. They simply want to give back to hockey through coaching.


During the first tournament game, the rest of my family and I were sitting in the stands with the other families of our team. In front of us, there were about six fans cheering unreservedly for our team. It wasn’t until the end of the game that I realized this group was family and friends of our coaches! At each game, this group grew bigger and bolder with banners and props to cheer the team on. In the lobby after the game, they met the coaches with big smiles, high-fives, and supportive cheering. It was after the second game, when I stood in the lobby waiting for my son and smiled watching the crowd that surrounded our coaches—family, friends, players, and parents—that I realized there was something special about this group that drew others to toward them, like magnets.


I have gleaned many lessons observing this team from the other side of the bench. I’ve boiled down my thoughts to four qualities that contribute to the success of this team, which any team leader, hockey or other, would be well-served to promote.


Stay true to the mission…


From the start of the season, this team has had the mission of fun-first, which has permeated across the whole team—coaches, players, and fans. The coaching staff understand their primary aim and even in times of pressure, such as a tournament when leaders are often lured into a focus on winning, their goal has been unmistakable and protected—fun-first!


Operate as a seamless unit…


There absolutely is one person guiding this team, but he’s made the choice to operate as a seamless unit with the other coaches—on and off the bench—and the players are learning to operate like this on the ice.


Where one player may struggle or fall, another shows up to pitch in and help. If a player is digging for the puck in the corner, others position themselves close to the net to accept a pass and take a shot or capitalize on a rebound. If a defensive player spots an opportunity to take the puck up to the net, another will fall back to cover the defensive position until the other player returns.


In every team, each member is valuable, bringing their own strengths and areas for opportunity. Where diverse individuals come together to build on each other’s strengths and operate seamlessly as a unit, they do amazing things together. This is the power of a team.


Know when to fire them up and when to keep them cool…


Building on the idea of diversity, every team, especially hockey, needs its hot tamales and cool cucumbers. The hot tamales will dig deep in critical moments, and they may also find themselves in the penalty box from time to time. The magnetic leader can win their trust to guide this behaviour so that it never gets too spicy, resulting in the entire team going up in a ball of flames. This takes incredible skill and patience as a leader. It is an even greater skill to figure out each player as an individual—what fires them up and what cools them down. This is the sweet spot of leadership and certainly how to grow a loyal following.


Help the team see past adversity and focus on the next play…


In hockey, as in life, there are many things you can’t control. The referees are human. Sometimes calls go your way and sometimes they don’t; players get sick or injured; equipment may malfunction; or the goalie’s mother drops him off at the wrong ice pad during a tournament, causing the goalie to be delayed. My point is life happens. It is how we respond that matters most. I am reminded of the famous Viktor Frankl quote, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” As a human, it is easy to react badly in the heat of the moment. The magnetic leader sees the opportunity to look ahead, hold the mission close, and respond with a cool head, curious mind, and passionate heart.


There was a moment early in the tournament after a questionable penalty when the players began to react to the situation. Tempers could have easily escalated and influenced what happened next. Instead, I watched our head coach calm the team and redirect their energy toward the next play, in which they would be down one player on the ice. It was only a few seconds, but in my eyes a pivotal moment in the leadership of this team.


In summary…


When the seconds ticked off the clock in that last game of the tournament and the team celebrated at centre ice, their smiles warmed my heart. While it was exhilarating for everyone involved to win, we have witnessed those smiles all season. Win or lose, the coaching staff and players have consistently exited the dressing room with big smiles and high-fives, exuding positivity and respect. And during the medal ceremony, when the coaching staff were introduced, we watched every player show their respect for the coaches with hearty and spontaneous tapping of their sticks on the ice. Anchored on a vision, supported each week of the season, a following has grown—loyal players, coaches, and fans—having fun and eager to be a part of this team. At the centre of this place, lies the magic of the magnetic leader. 
Shauna Leigh Richter is a business leader, coach & author who resides in Kitchener, Ontario with her husband and their two boys who all supply abundant amounts of inspiration and encouragement for Shauna’s creative pursuits. Fascinated by human dynamics, Shauna’s writing draws from life experiences wearing many hats–-partner, mother, daughter, business leader, landlord, home renovator, minor hockey enthusiast, and lover of the arts.