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Decency, Humility and Personal Leadership

March 1, 2020

Orr 4

I moved a lot as a kid. Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, I was only a few months old when we moved to Montreal where we lived for a few years before heading to Battlecreek, Michigan, for two years (where I started school). Then it was back to Montreal for many years, when suddenly at the end of grade eight my dad, a senior mechanical engineer with Canadian National Railways, was transferred to Toronto for a brief stint. Finally it was back to Montreal, where I completed high school.

I tell you this because there was a common thread through these family moves: hockey.

Hockey is Canada’s national sport, traditionally an activity that kids of all ages and abilities played. I was mediocre as a hockey player. When the snow was gone it was ball hockey, whether on tennis courts or on suburban streets. It was a blast, and I have wonderful memories of freezing my feet on outdoor ice rinks and stick handling down a paved street to drop one in the net.

Up until I attended university I followed hockey devoutly. And the big bonus for me was that my dad frequently was given free box seats to Montreal Canadien games at the former Montreal Forum. What an absolute thrill it was to sit behind the Canadiens’ bench, closely watching the players. My all-time hockey hero is Gordie Howe, dubbed Mr. Hockey, who played for the Detroit Red Wings. Man, could he ever skate, stick handle, shoot, and cream any player who got in his face.

But there was another player for whom I’ve had ever-lasting respect and admiration, someone just five years older than I. His name?

Bobby Orr.

Orr 1

Orr played for the Boston Bruins from 1966 to 1976, and then with the Chicago Blackhawks until 1979 before his devastated knees gave out. His awards and records set during his shortened tenure with the Bruins are incredible. Here are just a few of his records and awards:

• Most points in one season (1970-71) by a defenseman (139), and most assists (102)
• Youngest player to win the Calder Memorial Trophy (rookie of the year) in 1967
• Named when he was a rookie to the NHL Second All-Star Team in 1966-67
• Named to the First All-Star Team from 1968 to 1975
• Awarded the James Norris Trophy for best defenseman eight times from 1968 to 1975
• Voted second greatest hockey player off all time by an expert committee in 1997 by Hockey News. (Wayne Gretzky was voted number one and Gordie How number three.)
• Named best defenseman of all time by Hockey News
• Youngest inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame at age 31

I’ve been away from the hockey scene for four decades. I lost interest in pro hockey when the NHL expanded to over (now) 30 teams, where games are often exceedingly boring to watch (witness the Ottawa Senators of late).

What snapped me back to reflection was Orr’s autobiography, a Christmas gift a few years ago from one of my daughters. Accompanied by numerous radio and TV interviews with Bobby Orr during the book’s release, I began to reflect on this Canadian hero who not only outshone everyone else on the ice but who is a profoundly decent man. His humbleness, along with a surprising level of shyness, makes him that all more respected.

An easy but illuminating read Orr: My Story contains many personal leadership lessons. I learned more about Orr’s upbringing and why he turned out to be both a stellar hockey player and a leader in his own right. Growing up in Parry Sound in rural Ontario (north of Toronto), he learned to skate and play hockey on outdoor rinks and rivers, where pick-up games were initiated by and ruled by kids. Adults stayed out of the way.

Orr’s hard work and focus to build on his natural abilities exemplify what it means to dedicate oneself to a calling. Here’s the youth who to improve his stick handling and shooting skills hollowed out hockey pucks, filling them with lead. He opened the garage door and the back door, firing puck after puck at the granite hill behind their modest house. And as he put it in his book, he never was able to leave a dent in the hill.

Orr 2Orr’s parents were highly supportive of their son, but unlike many of today’s hyperactive hockey parents they never pressured him. In reading his autobiography, it’s clear that he loves his parents dearly and holds them in the highest regard. And it led me to reflect on what leadership lessons Bobby Orr could teach us.

Here are 10 lessons that I drew from Bobby Orr’s autobiography:

1. Honour your parents for their devotion to helping you grow.
2. Realize that you’re never at the end of your learning journey; there’s always much more to learn.
3. Maintain a strong sense of humbleness, for there are always people better than you at your profession.
4. Practice, practice, practice – then practice some more.
5. Keep your head up when stick handling through difficult times.
6. Precision is a lost art–regardless of your profession, don’t throw the puck away.
7. Stay out of the penalty box.
8. Beware of people who try to take advantage of your good nature.
9. Always keep smiling, no matter how bad it gets.
10. Courtesy gets you a long way with people.

Whether or not you’re a hockey fan, we can learn a lot from Bobby Orr. Be sure to check out his book.

The love and passion I had for the game was my key. I never had that taken out of me by my parents or a silly coach.
– Bobby Orr

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Dan Williams permalink
    March 3, 2020 4:15 pm

    Correction: Lacrosse is Canada’s national sport:) Hockey is Canada’s national winter sport.

    • March 4, 2020 12:15 am

      Actually, “In 1994 Parliament passed the National Sports of Canada Act which declared lacrosse to be “Canada’s National Summer Sport”, with ice hockey as the National Winter Sport.”

  2. Paul B. Thornton permalink
    March 3, 2020 4:11 pm

    He led by example!

    Nice article. I played hockey during that era and Bobby Orr was my hero growing up.

    I will never forget this interview. His mother was being interviewed and the interviewer said–“You must be very proud of your son.” She responded, “Which one. I have several sons and I am very proud of each of them.”

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