For many years, my now 16-year-old son has been obsessed with becoming a general manager in the NHL. This is not a passing whim; it is a long-term goal that he continues to pursue.
In 2014, I mentioned this to a friend of mine (who I met through LinkedIn), Ron Bremner, former president of the NHL’s Calgary Flames and now a highly successful consultant and speaker. Ron had two instant reactions. First, he offered to help my son, which he did immediately. Second, he offered to introduce him to Craig Button, whom he had hired as GM in Calgary.
Craig is now a highly popular, very busy hockey broadcaster and analyst. He could have easily ignored my son, or failed to take him seriously.
That’s not what happened.
Instead, he wrote my son a 5,500-word email that answered questions my son, Matt, had emailed to both Ron and Craig.
Craig’s email was filled with some of the most profound advice I have even seen.
Most impressively, for each piece of advice he offered, Craig included multiple real-life examples. He could have simply have shared the message then moved on, but that would not have made nearly as big an impact on my son.
How do you bring out talent in young people? Take them seriously.
With Craig’s permission, I’m now going to highlight a few of his key messages. All portions in quotes are Craig’s words, not mine…
Don’t overreact to mistakes: “Mistakes happen in everyday life. In the vast majority of instances, people are not trying to make mistakes. But when mistakes do occur, it is when people feel most vulnerable. They are not always sure what the response to their mistake will be.”
Craig went on to give this example…
“Harry Sinden, a Hall-of-Fame member and a great Bruins’ executive, told me this about the great Raymond Bourque: Raymond makes two to three mistakes every game that are pretty significant and at times result in goals for the other team. But, he does 17 to 18 things every game that are pretty significant and help us win a lot of games. If I try to eliminate the two to three, I will also eliminate the 17 to 18 and that simply isn’t a good trade-off.”
Communicate with clarity: “If your internal communication is not good, then your external communication will continually be one of explaining and rationalizing negative events.”
In other words, you can’t be muddled within your organization, but clear and focused outside it. Craig gave an example of how during his days in Calgary, he tried to do the right thing and give a promising player plenty of notice that the team wouldn’t be able to give him a contract. But “because Ron Bremner had sent a letter of encouragement to the young man just weeks before, I embarrassed our President…”
He then told my son, Matt, a 14-year-old boy, “When you are an executive, it is incumbent upon you to ensure that communication is up, down and across and as clear and as timely as possible.”
I have witnessed Matt reading Craig’s letter repeatedly. It continues to mean the world to him that a famous broadcaster and NHL executive took his aspirations seriously. If not, he never would have described what to do “when you are an executive.”
Owners are fans, too: “When I began working at the NHL Network, the executive producer told me that it’s really simple: the fans of the winning team want to know why their team won and the fans of the losing team want to know why their team lost.
“It’s no different as a GM and that message has to be relayed to the President and Ownership because let’s not forget, they are fans also.”
Craig explained to Matt that GMs hold a great deal of power and that you will need to make a conscious decision how to wield this power.
“Players always know what they need or don’t need but they are not going to tell you. They know who helps the team, they know who hinders the team and it’s your job as GM to make the changes necessary to help the players achieve their goals, and thus ultimately the team, to reach its objectives. If you make the wrong moves, your credibility as GM will be negatively impacted. Conversely, if you make the right moves, the confidence the players have in the GM will be heightened.’
Be ready to help… again and again: At the end of his extremely substantive document, Craig wrote this:
“I have left a lot to think about and take your time and digest it… circle back with me on further questions. This is a living, breathing organic document and I am learning every day so your goal of understanding what may be involved to become a GM is also helping reaffirm some of my thoughts and consider new ones.”
How did Matt react to Craig’s guidance? Here’s what he says, “It was the coolest thing ever. His words made my goal seem like an achievable possibility. I’ve read his document many, many times. For example, I often see events in the hockey world that originate with challenges Craig described, such as a failure of communications. When this happens, I go back and look at Craig’s email again. It gives me more insight into the game; it brings it closer to home.
“More importantly, it highlights the importance of hard work. If you go in at the bottom, you look for any job, any way to add value. That’s not a lesson for hockey. It applies to all life.”
Thank you, Craig and Ron, from both of us.
I ghostwrite articles for entrepreneurs and other business professionals. Learn more at Kasanoff.com.
An earlier version of this article appeared on Forbes.
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