Joe Sakic, the Captain by Example

There’s one important lesson that I learned from years of watching ice hockey. Well, not all ice hockey—specifically from observation of my favorite player. In all the hours I’ve watched sports , Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche is the only player that captivated my attention—every shift—for over a decade.

Other players like Peter Forsberg possessed more talent, but Joe Sakic was more than just a hockey player. He was a figure in the hockey world who understood something that eludes many people in business and politics. When you lead by example, you will stand out.

Other players received airtime by talking a lot, exuding confidence and jumping into the middle of tussles. However, when you lead by example, the attention of the fans and the respect of the community find you. Joe Sakic did that, winning MVP awards at every level and scoring more playoff overtime goals (8) than any player in the history of the game.

If you Google “Joe Sakic quotes”, you won’t come up with much. If you Google “Joe Sakic Leadership”, you’ll find some articles. If you Google, “Quoteless Joe Sakic”, you’ll find the secret to such success.

I was reminded of Sakic’s brilliance at the end February. Stuck in another frustrating period of this year, I was home to see Sakic return to the ice.

I was at Sakic’s last game in the NHL in the closing months of 2008. I don’t remember him leaving the ice with an injury, but his absence was noticeable after several minutes. It set off a string of injuries that forced his retirement after the brief prospect of a comeback late in the season. I was never able to say goodbye to Sakic until he returned for an alumni game in my second home for years, Coors Field.

How memorable it was to be able to see Joe Sakic in the stadium where I squeezed 50,000 lemons over the summers at Colorado Rockies games. Despite lingering injuries, Sakic played with class against his old rivals, the Detroit Red Wings. When ‘number 19” was on the ice, I was a mesmerized 5-year-old again, and this time, I understood his significance.

Few people have such heroes to look up to. I remember crying the year I thought Joe Sakic was leaving for the New York Rangers. I was all set to become a Rangers fan for the rest of my life, but Sakic stayed and finished his time in Colorado. He won the Stanley Cup again and flooded my memory with great moments. I always rooted for Canada over the U.S. when Sakic was playing—he won the Olympic MVP in 2002.

Leading by example is something I work on a lot. I try to help people find solutions instead of telling them how to do things. I consistently work at a high level because that’s what a leader by example should do. The key, I realize now, is that the attention doesn’t have to fall on you because you’re doing great work. You do great work because that’s your discipline and let people make their own judgments. Eventually, hard work shows up on the stats line, and if it doesn’t, at least you left everything on the ice.