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Wearing the ‘C’: Cultivating Leadership Qualities

09/21/2020, 10:15am MDT
By Michael Rand

Casey Hankinson was a senior in college playing for the University of Minnesota Gophers men’s hockey team and he was going through a rough patch. The goals weren’t going in – just 10 all year after netting 17 the year before.

His parents had traveled to watch him play against the University of Michigan. The Gophers lost, Hankinson didn’t score and he was ashamed of letting them down, but then his dad told him something that has stuck with him ever since that game.

“He said that if you work as hard as you did in that game, you will always be proud of yourself,” recalled Hankinson, now a youth hockey dad himself and senior vice president for Ryan Companies, a national real estate development firm. “Yeah, it’s about goals. Goals win games, but at the core of what you are doing, it’s about working as hard as you can and doing the best you can. Do the best you can. People are watching. Leadership is most important when you continue to work through those stretches.”

Hankinson is seemingly a born leader. He has been a team captain at five different levels: peewee, bantam, high school, college and pro. But even at a point far along his leadership journey, he was still learning. And for 14U/16U players just starting out on that journey, Hankinson has plenty of words of wisdom.

Be a Good Example

Hankinson knows that it’s easy to get bogged down when goals aren’t going in.

“It’s really hard,” he said. “When you don’t score, even if you’re the same player, you have a lot of negative talk or self-doubt. ‘I’m never going to score again’ – things you should never say, but those things happen.”

As a team leader, though, it’s important to work through those dry spells and continue to be a good example with work ethic for teammates.

“When you’re 14, the hardest thing at that age is to remember why a team picked you as a leader and stay true to that,” Hankinson said. “At that age, they’re looking more than anything to be a good example to your teammates on and off the ice. Being a captain is a great honor and it’s the first introduction to being a good hockey player but also putting the team ahead of your own interests.”

Leadership Takes Passion

How does someone become a captain at five different levels in the first place? Certainly it’s no accident or coincidence at that point.

“I think the biggest reason – people talk about passion and that’s a heavy word,” Hankinson said. “To me, I think it’s interest and competitiveness. I was always interested and I loved to compete.”

Notice that Hankinson didn’t say talent – even though he had plenty of it. He scored 50 goals in college and played seven seasons of professional hockey, scoring 114 more goals. His skills and tenacity got him to hockey’s highest level: 18 career NHL games.

For Hankinson, being a leader was about far more than scoring goals.

“I may not have been the best player,” Hankinson said, “but I wanted to win and wanted to compete more than most.”

Trust Your Gut

Once you are trusted with a leadership role, the question shifts to how to lead. For a 14U/16U player, that might mean something different than an NHL captain – but fundamentally, Hankinson says, some things are very much the same.

“I think I was a good captain at the University of Minnesota, but as a captain you have to do what you believe in. That’s the hardest thing to take into account. If you believe in it, you have to lead that way,” he said. “I had some great captains who were older than me and I finally got to the point where I did what I thought was right. Hopefully people followed. It’s amazing how much more respect you get that way.”

Life Teaches You

That said, as a 14U/16U leader you are certainly still learning.

“You form who you are by the people around you,” Hankinson said. “Even though you’re a captain you can still learn from teammates, coaches, other captains. It’s hard to not look back and watch an evolution of myself as a captain. It’s amazing how much you learn. When I was a 29-year-old captain I was much better at it. You go through life and have those experiences.”’

It’s a balancing act between seeking wisdom and doing what you believe in.

“Walk the fine line. Being a captain doesn’t mean you have all the answers,” Hankinson said. “You have to have that humility. It’s servant leadership. Serve everyone else first. That’s the true way to lead.”

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Tag(s): ADM Features