Updated: Apr 14, 2020
Emerging from Easter Weekend, smack in the middle of this world-wide pandemic, the concept of sacrificing the personal in order to protect others becomes an obvious focus. Jesus died and rose from the grave so that mankind could live eternally; this is the Easter Message. Reading an article this week on the pandemic, I was struck by the following few lines: "If you tell people: 'Do this or you will get the virus,' that doesn't work as well as saying 'Do this or you will spread the virus on to other people,' " he said. "People seem actually more motivated to make sacrifices for others."
I have observed the concept of sacrifice for more than 50 years in sport, business and life. This simple concept appears to be ingrained throughout humanity. If we focus on ourselves, our needs, our goals and our dreams, and we speak always with this "me" focus, then others soon recognize our motive and act accordingly. But when we focus on others, sacrificing self to protect, lift up, and take care of others, and use deflection language, people recognize this as sacrifice, as a team focus, and act similarly towards us.
Football coach Bear Bryant said it using language that I love:
“If something goes wrong, I did it.
If something goes right, we did it.
If something goes really well, they did it.”
We like to call the core motive behind this core concept, Deflection.
During this uncertain time, who are you playing for?
The culmination of the 2001 NHL playoffs saw Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic receive the Stanley Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. As Sakic took the Cup he did something very few captains in NHL history have done. Instead of lifting it high over his head in celebration, Joe moved it sideways across his body and handed it to Ray Bourque, who with exhilaration, lifted the Stanley Cup high, brought it down, and gave it a huge kiss. Ray Bourque had been traded to Colorado after 17 seasons with the Boston Bruins. Ray Bourque had never won a Stanley Cup.
I was at home watching with my wife, Jenni, and our kiddos, and was amazed at what we had just witnessed: a sideways cup!
Joe Sakic told an amazing tale with his actions that night. What he did revealed the kind of unselfish leadership that empowers teams to win championships. The way Sakic sacrificed the glory of being the first to life the Cup high above his head to pass the opportunity to Bourque instead was something I felt compelled to investigate. The next season while I was in Denver to broadcast an NHL game, I asked Avs goalie and friend Patrick Roy about what I now called The Sideways Cup. Patrick knew exactly what I meant and said to me, “Wally, you wouldn’t believe it. Weeks before we made it to the Stanley Cup final, every time Joe saw Ray he would say, ‘Bourquie, when we win the Cup… make sure you stay close to me.’”
The Avalanche players had found a cause to inspire their playoff run, something that was bigger than their personal motivation: “Let’s win it for Ray.”
Baseball coach Tommy Lasorda put it this way: “My responsibility is to get my twenty-five guys playing for the name on the front of their uniform and not the one on the back.” The irony is that if you play hard for the name on the front of your sweater, everyone wants to know the name on the back of your sweater. This is so true! Good to Great author Jim Collins says that humility is one of the overriding qualities of a top leader. Deflecting is the active progeny of humility.
During this uncertain time, who's taking the credit?
One training camp during my early years in Washington, my General Manager was incredibly high on another young player. As training camp continued I had the chance to play with this player a number of times. I could see that he had physical talent but I felt there was something lacking. Several weeks into our time together he said something to me prior to an exhibition game that confirmed what I was feeling: “Wally, you skate into the corner, work-hard, get the puck, then you pass it to me, and I’ll score the goal.”
The sad part of this whole scenario was that he really meant it! What this player said seeped out of what this player did. He played what we call "on the outside." He wasn’t willing to share the hard work, to pay the price, and on pro hockey teams that doesn't work… and it didn’t. One month later he was released from the team. The attribute he was displaying was obviously the opposite of deflection. At its core, deflection focuses on elevating others and not taking the credit.
During this uncertain time, what language are you hearing?
During professional sports events my ear is now trained to focus on the language that athletes utilize during their post-game interviews. Many athletes have learned the social and emotional skills of voicing deflection language when accolades come their way. I often hear athletes credit their teammates for generating or supporting their success. When I hear non-deflection language, however, players many times come across as self-focused even when they are not meaning to be.
Listen for deflection language this week. During calls or online meetings, listen-in to the language that you are hearing. Listen to the way that expert leaders take the positive focus off themselves and place it on the work of their team. Listen to parents who use thankful words about their spouse when a neighbour mentions that they have awesome kids. Listen-in to TV interviews during this pandemic. Are you hearing leaders who take the heat and share credit for the good news?
Really listen with a heightened awareness for deflection language any time that you are interviewing people for a leadership position. Intentionally ask questions that will give the potential candidate the chance to assume responsibility, deflect focus, or re-direct credit. After 50 years of watching at the highest level of leadership and 25 years of training leaders in these principles, here is what we know to be true: When leaders assume responsibility for the losses and share responsibility for the wins, they build inspired cultures and winning teams.
When glory comes our way, humankind has a moment, a pause, a space, a choice. Will we personally take the credit for everything that went well, or, will we choose to utilize deflection language that shares the accolades and builds our team?
At this moment in history, let's all pause and thank our medical professionals for the tireless work that they are doing to keep our countries and our teammates as safe as possible. They deserve our deflection!
If you would like me to train/coach you or your team in these critical leadership skills, call me directly at 604.996.4446 or contact me to discuss coaching options.