Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Empty Pedestals...

Union Station in Kansas City, Mo. is a testament to working together and the ideal of American ingenuity and fortitude.

The 1903 Kansas City flood put the tracks of the Union Depot train station underwater and city officials decided to build another on higher ground. Construction began in 1911 and it was dedicated in 1914 as Union Station. World Wars I and II saw the station used as a turnstile for American GI’s going to and coming back from Europe and the Far East.

But after the war, cars and planes began to take the country’s fancy and trains were slowly left out of America’s transportation future. Union Station slowly fades from relevance and by 1973, only six trains a day pass through the station. It closes in 1983.

In 1996, county governments from both Missouri AND Kansas institute a tax and began plans to revitalize the property. It reopened again in 1999 with retail, exhibitions and welcoming Amtrak back to their tracks. Today it is one of the tourist stops in Kansas City and houses museum exhibitions, meetings, entertainment and amusement for kids and adults alike.

At the front of Union Station though is a pedestal. It’s empty.

It was put there by the latter architects to pay honor to a leader that they all felt was worthy.

To date, no one can agree on that leader.

Ironically, across the street from Union Station is the World War I museum which pays homage to not only the great war, but those that helped stop and learn from it. Facing the empty pedestal at Union Station is the five stone faces, including General Pershing of the United States, who were there in 1921 to dedicate this memorial. On the east side of the wall looking up at the Memorial tower is this: “The glory of America goes deeper than all the tinsel, goes deeper than the sound of guns and the clash of sabers and goes down to the very foundation of those things that have made the spirit of man free, happy and content.” President Woodrow Wilson.

Wilson’s leadership led the country out of WWI and helped heal a strained and foundering Europe.

One of the things we hear most from coaches across the country, usually like a mole on the back side of a rough season is, “We didn’t have any leadership on the court this season.” We hear this often. We throw captains up for coin flips and ask some players to help wrangle up players from snack breaks, but are we teaching them real leadership?

John Kessel’s coaching philosophy is three words: “Develop amazing leaders.” There are leadership schools, leadership conferences, websites, seminars, classes and sometimes groups within schools and organizations that attack this very subject. So the question is, where are they? How DO we develop them?

A few weeks ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the NHL’s Stanley Cup with a convincing 4-2 series win over the San Jose Sharks. The Penguin’s Sidney Crosby, at the age of 28, held up his second Stanley Cup, his first in 2009. He was also voted the Conn Smythe winner for being the playoff MVP. The story isn’t this however…

In December, the Penguins were, much like the 1970’s Union Station, foundering. They were in 12th place and clinging to .500 hockey. They fired their coach and hired Mike Sullivan. He toyed with the lineups and asked of his star Crosby, more leadership. But he also made sure players knew they were appreciated; that they were respected as people, as men. The culture began to change.

Crosby, who had missed a season and a half with concussion issues, reluctantly took on the role. As Assistant Coach Rick Tocchet said, "I think he really took that to heart. He really wanted to lead these guys. He had them over to the house for dinner.”

Crosby embraced the young players on the team, playing that role himself just a few years before. When games got tight or chippy, Crosby was in the ears of his guys. He was looked up to and admired. He was the on ice leadership that made the difference.

How good of a leader was Crosby? He was voted the MVP of the playoffs yet didn’t score a goal in the final game and didn’t lead his team in goals, assists or points. We coaches call this, "intangibles." He also showed his team how much he cared.

In the Eastern Conference finals, Crosby’s teammate Trevor Daley had snapped his ankle in the series, finishing his playoffs for the year. He also went to see his ailing mother before the Stanley Cup finals started. She told her son Trevor that she would love to see him raise the cup.

After the horn sounded and Pittsburgh had crossed the season finish line first, Crosby’s first hand off of Lord Stanley’s cup went to Daley who held it high, on one good stick, for his Mom, and the city of Pittsburgh to see.

Pascal Dupuis retired from the Penguins earlier in the season because of blood clotting issues but was on the ice and the celebration that night in San Jose, 6 months to the day Coach Sullivan had taken the job. Daley handed the cup to Dupuis who was wearing the Penguin jersey for probably the last time in his life. As Crosby had done to him, Daley made sure Dupuis knew how much he was appreciated.

Crosby then made sure the cup was handed to Marc-Andre Fleury who was injured early in the playoffs and as is the case in sports, lost his job to a marvelous goaltender who played flawless hockey the rest of the way. Fleury knows sports and knows his future now is very uncertain as goalie Matt Murra has become legit. Crosby wanted Fleury to know how much he too was appreciated.

Maybe these are little gestures that in the grand scheme of things get lost. But to that team, they are indelible.

How can we help our players to understand these small ideas of leadership? Do we always look for the best player or the loudest voice? Do we search for the biggest personality and popularity at the expense of saying we have a Captain?

An empty pedestal sits in front of Union Station at Kansas City because city officials can’t agree on a leader worthy of a statue.

Sidney Crosby just won his second Stanley Cup and handed it off as soon as he helped his team win it.

Maybe empty pedestals ARE the best reminders of leadership and what’s missing…