The Ring

Sedins bring a rare style of leadership to hockey games

Tue, 2013-11-26 11:49

Alex Burrows and the Sedins. Photo: Jeff Vinnick/Vancouver Canucks
Alex Burrows and the Sedins. Photo: Jeff Vinnick/Vancouver Canucks

University of Victoria academic Carolyn Crippen scored a coup Vancouver hockey writers dream of—a lengthy, exclusive interview with NHL superstars Henrik and Daniel Sedin.

Crippen, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education, conducted the fall 2011 interview as part of a three-year case study of the leadership attributes of the twins. The results are in a paper published today in the leading online physical and health education periodical PHEnex.

A leadership studies expert, Crippen was casually watching a Vancouver Canucks game on TV in 2009 when her interest was piqued by the twins’ style of play. Crippen’s research focuses on a philosophy known as servant-leadership, which is effectively the pinnacle for leaders to aspire toward, because it focuses on achieving a greater good by serving the needs of followers above all else. She says the Sedins stood out for their civil, respectful approach to their teammates, coaches, opponents and officials.

“Their red hair and beards caught my eye, but then I started paying attention to their behaviour and quickly noticed these two players demonstrated a different form of on-ice behaviour—a more civil, respectful, caring approach,” she says. “The area of servant-leadership seemed at first glance to have possible connections.”

Her subsequent case study confirmed her theory that the Swedish-born stars exemplify attributes that make them ideal role models for both young athletes and adults.

“I was initially a skeptic of the philosophy existing in professional hockey, but the evidence is overwhelming that both Daniel and Henrik Sedin demonstrate the core principles that define servant-leadership,” says Crippen.

Through deliberate and intense observations of the Sedins during games and in media coverage over the course of three years, culminating with a 75-minute interview with the twins, Crippen evaluated how well they measure up to the 21 competencies of servant-leadership. She found the Sedins embody all 21 almost completely, a nearly unheard of “gold standard” of the philosophy.

“We have a group here where we have a lot of leaders, and there’s times when you need to make them a leader. Hank, he’s the captain, but he can’t be a leader all the time. I think he needs to make other players lead too. That’s a big part of a team that’s successful,” Daniel Sedin says at during the interview with Crippen. “I think you have everyone realize that they can be a leader at a certain moment, and then … you’ve got to let them handle the situation and make them grow. I think when you have that, everyone’s taking a step and getting better, as a person, as a player.”

Crippen says with increasing emphasis through all levels of hockey on safety, leadership and reducing violence, the Sedins could be perfect elite-level role models for achieving success through caring and supportive approaches. As well as the study published in PHEnex, a second piece is to be published by the International Journal of Servant Leadership, and Crippen is at work on a third, even more in-depth paper from the case study.