Dec. 22, 2004 -- Leadership may be more of a blessing than a burden. At least, it is in the National Hockey League (NHL). If the same is true off the ice, it could help groom tomorrow's leaders.
NHL players performed best when they captained their teams, says Pennsylvania State University's David Day, PhD.
Day, a professor of industrial and organizational psychology, worked with colleagues to study leadership in the NHL. They focused on about 200 players who had served as captains since the league's modern era began in the 1960s.
Being an NHL captain isn't a ceremonial role. Captains can call team meetings, communicate with coaches and managers, and represent the team to the media and fans.
Day's team tracked NHL captains' performances throughout the players' careers. The athlete's season on ice was better when he was captain, regardless of position, physical stature, age, or experience as a captain.
The reasons why aren't clear. Perhaps the players were at the peak of their abilities, or maybe they stepped up their level of play to meet leadership's expectations.
"Being named team captain is a high honor as well as a big responsibility," say the researchers in a recent issue of Personnel Psychology.
Could the NHL's leadership model work elsewhere? The researchers aren't ready to recommend that corporate or community leaders wear a big "C," but other lessons might apply.
For instance, organizations might benefit by building a culture of trust and respect around leaders. Making sure that leadership duties don't interfere with other required tasks is another practical idea. So is building a strong bench of team members who are ready and willing to serve, says Day in a news release.
That takes time. But it may make the difference between leaders who enhance their team and those who just feel drained by the effort.