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Leadership Qualities That Got Two Great Hockey Coaches to the Playoffs

June 9, 2017

The 2017 Stanley Cup Final is a very yellow matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators. This marks the first trip to the Stanley Cup Final for Nashville, while Pittsburgh qualifies for the sixth time. Though the teams have a very different franchise history, these teams have one thing very much in common: they are both being led by outstanding and well-respected coaches, each having unique leadership skills and knowledge.

hockey arena

Peter Laviolette, the head coach of the Predators, was born in Franklin, Massachusetts. He played in the NHL for the New York Rangers and for the U.S. Olympic team in 1988 and 1994. As a coach, Laviolette led the Carolina Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup championship in 2004. Six years later he brought the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final. He has also led six other teams to the playoffs. Overall he has had a very successful coaching career in the NHL.

Mike Sullivan was also born in Massachusetts but one hour away (and three years after Laviolette) in Marshfield. Sullivan had a much longer run in the NHL as a player than Laviolette, and so far, a shorter run as a coach. He played for four different NHL teams and scored 54 goals in his career. His coaching career is short but efficient. He has coached four seasons, has made the playoffs three times, and now has the chance to win the Stanley Cup for the second time.

This is the first time that two American-born head coaches have faced each other in the Stanley Cup Final. Some debate that Peter Laviolette is the greatest American NHL coach of all time. Some say that Mike Sullivan will be the greatest American NHL coach of all time once his career is over.


What makes these coaches such great leaders? What can we learn from their coaching styles?

Successful coaches, like Laviolette and Sullivan, must possess all, or most, of the following qualities, which can translate to essential qualities for your workplace leaders:

  • Knowledge of the Sport
  • Patience
  • Communication
  • Problem Solving
  • Inspirational
  • Conflict Management
  • Initiative
  • Conscientiousness


How can we apply this information to other industries in business?

Organizations that are actively seeking strong leaders should implement a strong hiring process that targets these qualities in their candidates. This can be done through pre-screening, online assessments, phone interviews, in-person interviews, and other approaches. However, Select International has already found many significant correlations between leadership assessments, which measure many of these qualities, and overall job performance. Since many leadership positions differ from company to company, department to department, and even within departments, it is critical to do a job analysis to better understand the target leadership position. Then, the assessment can weight different qualities higher and lower depending on the job analysis results.

It is unknown to me if Peter Laviolette and Mike Sullivan took a leadership assessment before being selected into their current coaching roles. However, their situation is unique because their past performance is very well documented, and much of the sports industry hires based on past performance. In most other industries, we don’t have these data available. We need to gather as much accurate information about the candidate to better understand person-job fit. Therefore, in order to hire the Laviolette or Sullivan of your industry for your leadership roles, seek to include these proven leadership qualities in your selection process.

Oh, and Let's Go Pens!  Sorry, I couldn't help myself...

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Trevor McGlochlin Trevor McGlochlin is a Research Analyst at PSI. He earned a Master of Science degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Florida Institute of Technology. His areas of expertise include selection, employee turnover, organizational development, applied research, and statistical analyses. His analysis work is centered around validation, adverse impact, turnover analyses, assessment scoring, and other data analysis.