We may never know what Kansas City would look like with a hockey team in today’s NHL, and that may not be such a bad thing. Although Kansas City had already failed once to support an NHL franchise, the Scouts, it was the rumored destination for the Pittsburgh Penguins who were floundering in financial purgatory during the late 1990’s. It was not to be, as a former hero stepped forward once again to save the City of Champions from losing its beloved hockey team.
Mario Lemieux once dominated the game of hockey while serving as star and captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins from the mid-1980’s to the late 1990’s. He was known for his great leadership, just as he was for his great scoring ability. However, his greatest accomplishment as a leader of the organization may not be the triumph of back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships in the early 1990’s. In fact, his greatest heroics as a leader may actually be his rescue of the team from bankruptcy and potential relocation after the former ownership group let the organization go off the financial rails.
Dr. Peter G. Northouse, Professor Emeritus of Communication in the School of Communication at Western Michigan University, discussed 5 major leadership traits in his textbook, Leadership: Theory and Practice. It is quite reasonable to say that Mario Lemieux possesses each of these major leadership traits, and leaned heavily on them as he navigated through dealings to become a principal owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The traits featured in Northouse’s text are intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity and sociability.
Professional hockey is a thinking man’s game built upon anticipation, awareness and quick-decision making skills. Mario relied on his intelligence, not just his physical skill, to become one of the best players in NHL history, and that intelligence made a seamless transition to his off-ice business dealings. He aligned himself with legitimate investors, public officials, and, most importantly, the fans of Pittsburgh, which made his bid to become owner very attractive to the top brass at NHL headquarters.
His self-confidence relaxed any reservations that anyone may have had about his future as an owner. His integrity and determination to keep the team in Pittsburgh exuded loyalty to the city that adopted him as a French-speaking teenage Canadian rookie back in the 80’s.
Not only did Lemieux embody the traits of a great leader, he combined his gifts with an ability to wield power and influence in a way that was low-key, yet effective. At the time of his retirement from hockey in 1997, you could argue that he was the most influential public figure in the city of Pittsburgh. His hockey prowess had already granted him the power of a hero, and he was able to tap into that power by placing his influence upon critical needs for his bid for ownership. His influence brought together businessmen and city leaders to figure out the financial woes placed upon the team through mismanagement by the previous owners. His influence also rallied the common-man, the fans, by staking a serious claim for keeping the team right where it belonged. In Pittsburgh.
The combination of his natural leadership traits with his power and influence within the community saved Pittsburgh its hockey team. Lemieux also saved the NHL from attempting to resurrect hockey in K.C. where it previously only took a mere two years to fizzle out during the 1970’s. Whichever lens you’re viewing it through, one thing is certain, saving the Pittsburgh Penguins should be viewed as Lemieux’s greatest accomplishment as a leader.