Chris Liverani via Unsplash

What a Zamboni Driver Can Teach You About Influence

You don’t have to be a hockey fan to appreciate the punchline of this question: What happens when your team loses not one, but both of your goalies in the middle of a game? Easy, you pull in the Zamboni driver.

When the Carolina Hurricanes lost two goaltenders to injuries in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs last month, everyone in the audience was in for a treat. The emergency backup goaltender was none other than the Zamboni driver, Dave Ayres, at the ripe athletic age of 42.

As Ayres prepared to join the game, his teammate and left wing Erik Haula said, “Just have fun. We don’t care if you let 10 goals in.” Ayres said that’s what really allowed him to settled down and enjoy the game. Haula’s words did the trick. Ayres went on to block 8 out of 10 Maple Leaf goal attempts and the Hurricanes won the game. As you might have guessed, the audience erupted into applause and gave Ayres a standing ovation.

Haula’s exchange with Ayres is a perfect example of what great leaders do in the workplace when they want their employees to feel empowered to succeed under pressure. David Maxfield and Justin Hale say that “non-routine days—the days when you are under the gun, feeling the heat or pushed to your limits—how you respond under the pressure makes an indelible impression on the people around you.” I would say getting out from behind the Zamboni steering wheel and putting on your goalie skates qualifies as non-routine.

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Maxfield and Hale’s latest research shows that a leader’s mood in these critical times has a direct effect on performance. For instance, they spoke of one executive who boasted about how fun and supportive his company environment was, but his employees felt otherwise. The employees agreed that 95 percent of the time he was great, but that his non-routine behavior left a troubling and lasting impression.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the power to positively influence others and the difference it has made in my personal and professional life. I believe it’s one of the single most impactful multipliers when it comes to C-suite leadership. How you behave in the routine and especially the non-routine days speaks volumes to your people.

When I was invited by the Prologis board to rejoin the company as CEO while it was suffering financially, you could say our days were anything but routine. I learned a lot about myself and the people around me. It made our return to financial stability and eventual growth especially rewarding.

While I wasn’t a Zamboni driver asked to play in a national hockey game, you could say that Dave Ayres and I both experienced the thrill of victory in our own arenas. We both came away from the experience grateful for the people around us who shared our positive temperament and willingness to step up when the stakes were high…and non-routine.

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